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Binance executives detained in Nigeria

Nigerian authorities arrested former United States federal agent and Binance’s criminal investigations team Tigran Gambaryan along with another company official, according to a Wired report published on Tuesday (Mar. 12)

During his tenure as a federal agent in the United States, Tigran Gambaryan played a pivotal role in spearheading significant investigations that led to the apprehension of cryptocurrency criminals, dark-web narcotics vendors, and networks involved in child exploitation financed through crypto.

Following his government service, Gambaryan joined the world’s top cryptocurrency exchange Binance, only to find himself ensnared by a different kind of crypto-focused crackdown by Nigerian authorities. For the last two weeks, Gambaryan and another executive from Binance have been forcibly detained by Nigerian officials.

Why is Nigeria cracking down on Binance?

Since the 26th of February, Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla — the regional manager for Africa based in Kenya — have been held at a government facility in Abuja, Nigeria, without their passports. They have not been formally charged or informed of any criminal allegations against them, according to their relatives.

It appears their detention is part of Nigeria’s sweeping measures to prohibit cryptocurrency exchanges amidst a significant devaluation of the Nigerian currency, as initially reported by the Financial Times, which covered their detention without naming the executives.

Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen, and Anjarwalla, who holds dual citizenship in the UK and Kenya, arrived in Abuja on the invitation of the Nigerian government to discuss the ongoing ban on Binance and other crypto exchanges. This ban was implemented as the exchanges were accused of contributing to the devaluation of the Nigerian naira and facilitating illegal financial flows.

Following their initial meeting with Nigerian officials, they were taken from their hotels, instructed to pack up, and relocated to a “guesthouse” under the administration of Nigeria’s National Security Agency, where they remain detained.

Both Gambaryan and Anjarwalla have received visits from officials from the U.S. State Department and the UK foreign office, respectively, but their meetings were overseen by Nigerian guards, preventing any private conversation. Binance has refrained from commenting on the specifics of the accusations or the demands made by the Nigerian government for their release, emphasizing ongoing cooperation with Nigerian authorities to ensure the executives’ safe return to their families.

Gambaryan’s recruitment by Binance in 2021 was seen as a move to enhance the exchange’s compliance with regulations and its collaboration with law enforcement, given his achievements in cryptocurrency investigations with the IRS Criminal Investigation division. His work included leading significant cases against corrupt federal agents, tracking down stolen Bitcoin, and dismantling criminal networks funded by cryptocurrency.

The news comes on the heels of Binance recently putting a stop to its cryptocurrency services in Nigeria. This is not the first time that local authorities put pressure on the crypto industry, with a previous ban having been lifted by the Central Bank of Nigeria at the end of 2023.

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Radek Zielinski
Tech Journalist

Radek Zielinski is an experienced technology and financial journalist with a passion for cybersecurity and futurology.

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