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Nigerian Court Orders Transfer Of Binance Executive To Jail

Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the detention of Tigran Gambaryan until his bail hearing on April 18. The executive of Binance has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges in a Nigerian court.

On April 8, Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan appeared in the courtroom of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court. He pleaded not guilty to all four counts of money laundering filed against him by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of Nigeria.

According to reports, Gambaryan will be held responsible not only for himself but also for co-accused executive Anjarwalla, who managed to flee the country. The court states he can serve as the agent for the exchange and the other executive who escaped custody.

Gambaryan's lawyer Chukwuka Ikuazom objected earlier, saying the defendant was "neither a director, partner nor company secretary." Still, the judge eventually ruled that Gambarya would be served with his escaped colleague according to local laws:

“A person who has no physical presence in Nigeria but has a physical agent in Nigeria can be duly served through that agent. Consequently, there cannot be a better service than service through the second defendant,” the judge reportedly stated.
Tigran Gambaryan at court hearing, April 4

Until his sentencing, Gambaryan is supposed to remain in Kuje prison. Still, his attorney is trying to return him to more comfortable - and presumably safe - EFCC custody. According to local media, the bail hearing is scheduled for April 18, while hearings on the substantive charge will start on May 2. Other sources claim slightly different information on the schedule of hearings, but generally, we can expect the hearings to begin in April.

In February, Nigerian authorities accused Binance of destabilising the exchange rate of the local currency, the naira, and banned its website alongside the pages of other crypto exchanges. Even though Binance promptly exited the Nigerian market, the authorities have been on the warpath. Already, authorities have filed charges against the exchange for money laundering (by the EFCC) and tax evasion (by the FIRS), and requested the exchange to release comprehensive data of all local users.

Two Binance executives travelling to Nigeria to facilitate negotiations with authorities became the scapegoats. Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance's Kenya-based regional manager for Africa, and his colleague Tigran Gambaryan were detained in Nigeria at the end of February. 

Binance earlier asked local authorities to free Gambaryan, outlining his dedication to law enforcement, career path mainly focused on battling cybercrime, and a minor role in the company’s strategic decisions:

“Binance respectfully requests that Tigran Gambaryan, who has no decision-making power in the company, is not held responsible while current discussions are ongoing between Binance and Nigerian government officials.”

Gambaryan’s wife has launched a petition to bring him back home to Georgia. She specifically outlined that the U.S. government is refraining from actively helping his case. It's likely authorities prefer not to interfere publicly as the crypto-related incidents are a ‘delicate’ matter, not to mention the fact that the U.S. government and Binance are far from best friends. 

Allegedly, Gambaryan - as well as Binance - became a pawn in a big demonstrative legal game. One gets the impression that the Nigerian government wants to show its power over the crypto industry and a tough stance on law infringement. The world’s biggest exchange is an obvious target and a perfect example for others. We cannot predict how the trial will turn out, but it’s quite possible that Binance will have to buy its way out as it did in the U.S. last year.