Nigeria detains, questions Binance executives after blaming crypto for crashing Naira

Two of Binance’s executives detained after travelling to Nigeria to settle an economic dispute at the end of February are now being questioned about the country’s top users on the platform.

Government officials are interested in discovering the country’s top 100 users and their transaction history from the past six months.

The two detainees are Tigran Gambaryan, a former US federal agent and Binance head of criminal investigations, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance’s regional manager for Africa.

Gambaryan and Anjarwalla had gone to Nigeria to resolve a dispute involving the country blaming cryptocurrency trade for its currency’s rapid devaluation.

This occurred just a week after the country enforced a nationwide ban on cryptocurrency.

The Financial Times reported that Nigeria’s anti-corruption unit had permitted the detaining of the individuals for 14 days.

Bloomberg reported that the governor of the Nigerian Central Bank said the country was losing out on tax revenue from the number of unregistered crypto exchanges.

According to the Bloomberg report, Binance was also accused of facilitating “illicit flows from sources and users we cannot adequately identify”, amounting to $26 billion (R484 billion).

Detained for two weeks

After arriving in Abuja and meeting with government officials, Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were told to pack their bags and then moved from their hotel to a Nigerian National Security Agency ‘guesthouse’, as reported by Wired.

On 5 March 2024, Binance announced it would no longer support the Nigerian Naira and said that “any remaining [Naira] balances in users’ Binance accounts will be automatically converted to [US Dollars]”.

Their families say that they have had their passports seized and been detained since they arrived on 25 February but have not yet been charged with any criminal offences.

Gambaryan, a US citizen, has been visited by a US State Department official. Anjarwalla, who holds dual citizenship in Kenya and the UK, has been visited by a representative from the UK foreign office.

Binance’s past trouble

Given his high-profile career, Gambaryan’s appointment in 2021 to lead Binance’s investigations team was seen as an effort to clean up the exchange’s record of dirty money flows and better comply with law enforcement.

The cryptocurrency exchange was charged $4.3 billion (R80.19 billion) at the end of 2023 for not effectively implementing anti-money laundering programs and violating the Bank Security Act.

Before the investigation, Binance had allowed users to operate on the platform without formal Know Your Customer systems.

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Nigeria detains, questions Binance executives after blaming crypto for crashing Naira