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Crypto Scandal: Kenyan Amongst Binance Executives Detained In Nigeria

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When two executives from Binance arrived in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, to meet with the government over the role of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange in the country’s foreign exchange crisis, they were carrying only hand luggage, expecting to stay a few days.

The first meeting on Feb. 26 started off neutral, the second took a hostile turn. The executives were escorted to their hotel, made to pack up their belongings and moved to a guesthouse, where their passports were taken.

Against the backdrop of their detention, Nigeria is currently grappling with one of its most severe economic downturns in years, sparked by a sharp rise in inflation. The surge in prices is largely attributed to monetary strategies that have significantly devalued the currency. The naira has reached a historic low against the dollar. As a consequence, widespread discontent and demonstrations have erupted throughout the nation.

In the midst of economic uncertainty, a growing number of Nigerians have embraced cryptocurrency as an alternative financial option. Recent statistics from Chainalysisreveal that Nigeria ranks second globally in crypto adoption, trailing only behind India.

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The exchange rate on Binance and other platforms, which reflect a parallel black market rate, continued to deviate from the official rate, which has been gradually depreciated.

Nigeria has accused Binance of crashing the nation’s currency through rate manipulation for profit. The country is seeking a US$10 billion penalty from the company for processing $26 billion of untraceable funds in the country, according to reports.

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The two Binance executives who came to meet Nigerian officials remain detained, without being charged with any crimes.

Both U.S. and U.K. authorities have been alerted of the detainment. Tigran Gambaryan, who lives in the U.S., is Head of Finance Crime Compliance for the Binance Security and Investigations Team. He also worked as a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service for over a decade until September 2021.

The other executive, Nadeem Anjarwalla, Regional Manager of Africa, is a dual British-Kenyan citizen.

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On Feb. 28, the executive’s lawyers were told they would be held for two weeks while investigations took place. Both were taken to a medical center on March 4, and Anjarwalla was reportedly feeling unwell, according to family members. He refused to have tests without a foreign representative, fearing the results would be manipulated.

Anjarwalla and Gambaryan’s next hearing — which was postponed until March 13 — failed to secure their release. While it didn’t explicitly extend the order allowing their detainment, they will remain in jail until an additional hearing on March 20, which gives Nigerian authorities more time to respond to the arguments of the Binance executives’ lawyers.

Their families anxiously await their return. “I’ve been trying very hard to keep up the hope and stay optimistic,” Elahe Anjarwalla, Nadeem’s wife said while speaking to the media from Nairobi. “But it’s now day 18, it definitely does seem like it’s getting harder.”

Binance has given few details publicly. “While it is inappropriate for us to comment on the substance of the claims at this time, we can say that we are working collaboratively with Nigerian authorities to bring Nadeem and Tigran back home safely to their families,” a Binance spokesperson told Consortium of journalists in statement. “We trust there will be a swift resolution to this matter.”

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But the Nigerian government doesn’t seem to be backing down. They are now asking Binance for information regarding its top 100 users in the country and transaction history spanning the last six months, according to reports.

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Anjarwalla said she has been chasing the British authorities, and that Wednesday was the first day they had called her “unprompted.”

For now, Anjarwalla can only wait, and hope that her husband returns home in time for her son’s first birthday next week. “I’m anxiously hoping and praying that Nadeem will make it back in time for that,” she said.


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