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US lawmakers seek release of Binance executive detained in Nigeria

FILE PHOTO: Tigran Gambaryan, an executive of Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, sits as he waits to face prosecution for tax evasion and money laundering at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria April 4, 2024. REUTERS/ Abraham Achirga/File Photo

Lawmakers in the United States of America have requested President Joe Biden expedite the release of Binance Executive Tigran Gambaryan, who has been detained in Nigeria for over three months on allegations of money laundering and tax evasion.

According to a letter dated June 4, obtained by PUNCH Online on Wednesday, the lawmakers addressed Biden, Secretary Antony Blinken, and Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, emphasising the need for urgent intervention.

The 12 lawmakers who signed the letter argued that Gambaryan was being held unjustly, stating that the allegations against him were “baseless” and represented a coercive tactic to pressure Binance.

“Clearly, Mr. Gambaryan is a U.S. citizen being wrongfully detained by the Government of Nigeria per 22 U.S.C. 1741 (a)(9) and (10). On behalf of Mr. Gambaryan, his family, and concerned Americans, we, the undersigned, urgently request and strongly encourage the transfer of his case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs,” part of the letter reads.

Lawmakers who signed the letter include Rich McCormick, a member of Congress; Michael T. McCaul, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Barry Loudermilk, a member of Congress; Austin Scott, a Member of Congress; Keith Self, a member of Congress; and others.

In February, the Nigerian government arrested Gambaryan, a US citizen, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion.

Anjarwalla evaded arrest and fled to Kenya, while his colleague remained in the Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja.

Gambaryan’s health took a turn for the worse when he collapsed in a Federal High Court in Abuja during his money laundering trial.

The incident happened just as Judge Emeka Nwite was about to resume proceedings.

The lawmakers lamented that the conditions of Gambaryan’s detention have been severe due to the notoriously harsh conditions in Kuje prison.

“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 stated.

The lawmakers asserted that Gambaryan’s detention meets the criteria for being “wrongfully detained by a foreign government,” as defined in the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.

They requested that his case be transferred to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

In addition, they emphasised the need for swift action to ensure the Binance executive’s safety.

Last month, Chief Executive Officer of Binance, Richard Teng, in a blog post, described the detention of Gambaryan by the Nigerian government as ‘unjust’ and that it was a “dangerous precedent” for international businesses.

Teng also claimed that despite Binance’s repeated efforts at constructive engagement and cooperation with Nigerian authorities, Gambaryan remained in detention for ‘spurious’ reasons.

The CEO declared that inviting a company’s mid-level employees for collaborative policy meetings, only to detain them, had set a dangerous new precedent for all companies worldwide.

“The message from the Nigerian government is clear: we must detain an innocent, mid-level employee, a former U.S. federal agent, and place him in a dangerous prison to control Binance.

“This regrettable turn of events contradicts the spirit of cooperation and transparency that Binance has consistently demonstrated in its interactions with the regulatory authorities,” Teng added.

The Federal Government stepped up its cryptocurrency crackdown after it banned peer-to-peer trading last month.

The Central Bank of Nigeria initially prohibited financial institutions from providing services to cryptocurrency businesses in 2021 but reversed this decision in December 2023.

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