US lawmakers call for swift action to free a Binance executive who is being held in Nigeria.

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US lawmakers call for swift action to free a Binance executive who is being held in Nigeria.

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US lawmakers call for swift action to free a Binance executive who is being held in Nigeria.

U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens on Tuesday, urging them to take immediate action to bring Binance executive ​​Tigran Gambaryan home from detention in Nigeria.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) and 15 other Members of Congress signed the letter, urgently requesting that the case be treated as a hostage situation. They claimed Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen, has been refused adequate health care in prison amid a three-month detainment marked by “excessive and harsh treatment.”

“Mr. Gambaryan’s health and well-being are in danger, and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life. We must act swiftly before it is too late,” they wrote.

On May 17, the Federal High Court of Nigeria refused to grant bail to Gambaryan, finding the crypto exchange’s Head of Financial Crime Compliance a flight risk. Gambaryan and Binance are facing a $35 million money laundering and tax violation indictment in Nigeria.

In a court hearing on May 22, Gambaryan was absent, with the court, prosecutors and defense team seemingly unaware of his whereabouts or condition. When the court reconvened the next day, Gambaryan was present but “slumped over in his chair,” and could not stand when called, collapsing to the floor, according to the U.S. lawmakers’ letter. Amid reports that Gambaryan tested positive for malaria, the judge ordered he be sent to a private hospital for treatment. However, as of June 4, the prison has not fully complied with the court order, the lawmakers said.

How we got here

Gambaryan, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance’s Africa Regional Manager, were detained following their arrival in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, on Feb. 26, amid accusations of Binance making illegal-transaction profits locally. Criminal charges were filed against them on Feb. 28. Anjarwalla later escaped from custody on March 22.

Gambaryan is formerly a Special Agent for the U.S. IRS and has “devoted his professional life to fighting financial crimes,” Binance CEO Richard Teng said, calling for his release last month. He was hired by Binance in 2021 to help the exchange build stronger compliance controls, subsequently assisting global law enforcement in freezing and seizing more than $2.2 billion worth of assets, including more than $285 million in cooperation with U.S. agencies like the FBI, DOJ and DEA, according to Teng.

The situation involving Binance in Nigeria began two years ago when Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission issued digital asset regulations requiring permits for crypto exchanges in May 2022. Binance attempted to comply but faced unclear requirements and non-responsiveness from the SEC, according to Teng. In June 2023, the SEC accused Binance of operating illegally, leading to Binance suspending the solicitation of Nigerian investors.

Around the time Gambaryan and Anjarwalla traveled to Nigeria for meetings, Nigeria’s currency, the naira, was suffering a steep decline, with many local Binance customers using its peer-to-peer trading platform to protect themselves, Teng said previously. 

Binance then began hearing concerns that the P2P naira prices from merchant advertisements were influencing the country’s foreign exchange rate. The exchange worked on restrictions, including removing abnormally priced ads, and made it clear that malicious users would be removed from the platform. Despite assurances the meetings would be friendly, Teng added, the pair were still detained.


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