Former Federal Prosecutors, Agents Ask U.S. Sec. Blinken to ‘Step Up’ Efforts to Secure Detained Binance Exec’s Release

Investor Katie Haun, a former federal prosecutor, reportedly spearheaded the letter to Blinken

AccessTimeIconJun 7, 2024 at 1:59 a.m. UTC
Updated Jun 7, 2024 at 2:02 a.m. UTC

A group of 108 former federal prosecutors and agents have signed a public letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the State Department to “step up” its efforts to secure Binance compliance head Tigran Gambaryan’s release from a Nigerian prison, Axios reported Thursday evening.

The letter, reportedly spearheaded by investor and Coinbase board member Katie Haun – a former federal prosecutor – called the government’s minimal efforts to intervene on Gambaryan’s behalf “wholly lacking,” stressing that the “consequences of further inaction are potentially dire.”

Gambaryan, a former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent and Binance’s current head of financial crime compliance, was arrested in Nigeria in February and, a month later, charged with money laundering and tax evasion – essentially as a scapegoat for his employer, which Nigerian officials have accused of tanking the value of the naira. Gambaryan has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Bail hearings and other court proceedings have repeatedly been pushed back.

A State Department spokesperson told CoinDesk earlier this year that the department was "aware of reports" of Gambaryan's detention, while a White House spokesperson later referred CoinDesk back to the State Department.

During court proceedings last month, Gambaryan collapsed. A spokesperson for the family told CoinDesk that Gambaryan is suspected of having malaria and a severe throat infection, presumably picked up in the prison where he is being held.

Despite a court order to move him to a hospital from Kuje prison – known to hold violent criminals and terrorists, including members of the Islamist jihadist group Boko Haram – Nigerian officials have reportedly refused to transfer him. In their letter to Sec. Blinken, Haun and the other signers call Gambaryan’s captivity “not only unjust but inhumane,” adding that, in addition to not receiving adequate medical care, he has not been allowed to speak with his lawyers or family.

“We implore you to leverage the full power of U.S. diplomacy to do the just thing by demanding and securing Tigran's immediate release back to his family and the country he has so honorably served,” the authors of the letter wrote.

Earlier this week, 16 members of Congress wrote a similar letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, Sec. Blinken and diplomat Roger Carstens, the State Department’s special envoy for hostage affairs.

The letter called Gambaryan’s detainment “deeply disturbing” and urged that his case be transferred to Carstens’ office to be treated as a hostage situation.

“We fear for his life,” they said. “Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life. We must act swiftly before it is too late.”

Edited by Nikhilesh De.

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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.