Binance CEO Teng Says Nigeria Must Release Gambaryan, Detention Sets 'Dangerous New Precedent'

In January the company refused to pay a demand from "unknown persons" to settle allegations.

AccessTimeIconMay 7, 2024 at 8:28 a.m. UTC
Updated May 7, 2024 at 6:47 p.m. UTC
  • Binance CEO Teng called on Nigeria to release the executive, who has been held for 70 days.
  • Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla were detained after flying to the country for talks on regulatory supervision.
  • The detention after being invited for talks sets " a dangerous new precedent for all companies worldwide," Teng wrote.

Binance CEO Richard Teng called on the Nigerian government to release Tigran Gambaryan, head of the crypto exchange's Financial Crime Compliance team, who flew to the country in February for talks on regulatory supervision.

"As you may be aware, one of our beloved colleagues, Tigran Gambaryan, continues to be held by the government in Nigeria for more than 70 days," Teng wrote in a blog post. "I also feel that it's time to speak out about this issue on behalf of the global business community. To invite a company's mid-level employees for collaborative policy meetings, only to detain them, has set a dangerous new precedent for all companies worldwide."

The government of Africa's most populous nation is struggling with an economic crisis that sent its currency to a record low against the dollar in March while inflation climbed to a 28-year high of 33.2%. In February, Bank of Nigeria Governor Olayemi Cardoso said Binance had allowed $26 billion of funds to leave the country untraceably last year, hitting tax revenues. Binance has been trying to contact the country's Securities and Exchange Commission since 2022 to clarify the licensing requirements, though it hasn't received responses to its approaches, Teng wrote.

Gambaryan and the exchange's regional manager for Africa, Nadeem Anjarwalla, were detained in February after flying in for a meeting that included the CEO of the SEC, the deputy governor of the central bank and the national security adviser, according to Teng.

The executives were originally held in a secure compound, according to Teng. Anjarwalla made headlines in March after escaping custody. Gambaryan, who is now being held on money laundering charges, is in the Kuje prison – which also houses suspected members of the Boko Haram terrorist group – after an Abuja court postponed a bail hearing until May 17. The two have filed a lawsuit against the Nigerian authorities for violating their human rights.

A $150 million bribe: NYT

The New York Times reported that during a visit in January, Gambaryan has been asked by "someone in the Nigerian government" for a bribe amounting to roughly $150 million in crypto, citing five people familiar with the matter and messages it reviewed.

In his blog post, Teng referred to the request from "unknown persons," without mentioning an amount. Gambaryan alerted contacts in the Nigerian government and wrote a three-page report describing the payment request, which he gave to Binance’s lawyers, the NYT said.

"Our team grew increasingly concerned about their safety in Nigeria and immediately departed," Teng wrote. "We, of course, declined the payment demand via our counsel, not viewing it to be a legitimate settlement offer ..."

Nigerian government authorities did not immediately respond to a CoinDesk request for comment on the report. Gambaryan's family said they had nothing further to share.

Nigeria vows to ban P2P crypto trading in naira

In Nigeria's latest step against cryptocurrency ever since it accused Binance of manipulating the local exchange rate, tax evasion and money laundering, the nation has now vowed to ban person-to-person cryptocurrency trading in the naira, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

The decision was announced by Nigeria's Securities and Exchange Commission Director General Emomotimi Agama at a meeting with fintech professionals on Monday, the report said.

“The thing that needs to be done is delisting the naira from the P2P space in order to avoid the level of manipulation that is currently happening,” Agama said. “Recent concerns regarding crypto P2P traders and their perceived impact on the exchange rate of the naira has underscored the need for collective action."

Additionally, Agama said that new rules would be rolled out “in the coming days” covering crypto exchanges, digital asset custodians and other corners of the sector, the report said.

In the blog post, Teng said Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were detained on Feb. 26, and "the next 24 hours were marked by aggressive behavior towards" them.

On Feb. 28, "we removed the naira pairing from our site and shut down the P2P product for Nigeria on the Binance platform," requesting immediate “safe passage to the airport" for the executives, Teng wrote.

Camomile Shumba contributed reporting.

UPDATE (May 7, 9:40 UTC): Adds background, details throughout.

UPDATE (May 7, 11:30 UTC): Adds state of Nigeria's economy in third paragaph.

Edited by Sheldon Reback.


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Amitoj Singh

Amitoj Singh is a CoinDesk reporter.

Sheldon Reback

Sheldon Reback is a CoinDesk news editor based in London. He owns a small amount of ether.

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