Binance CEO calls for release of detained officer in Nigeria

Binance CEO Richard Teng claims detained officer is “innocent” and calls for their release.

Richard Teng, CEO of Binance, has publicly asserted that Tigran Gambaryan, the exchange’s compliance officer detained in Nigeria, is “innocent and must be released.”

Gambaryan, a US citizen overseeing financial crime compliance at Binance, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, the exchange’s regional manager for Africa were detained on February 26 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. The detention was due to allegations leveled against Binance for making illegal-transaction profits in the country, with criminal charges filed against the pair on February 28. Anjarwalla later escaped from custody on March 22.

In a blog post published Tuesday, Teng expressed concern over the precedent set by inviting mid-level employees for collaborative policy meetings and subsequently detaining them, calling it “a dangerous new precedent for all companies worldwide.”

Teng emphasized Gambaryan’s professional background as a former US IRS Special Agent and his efforts in assisting global law enforcement to freeze and seize more than $2.2 billion in assets since joining Binance in 2021.

My friend and colleague, Tigran Gambaryan, has been unlawfully detained by the Nigerian government for more than 70 days. We’re tirelessly working to #BringTigranHome.

For the first time publicly, I’m sharing the full context of this situation here. ⤵️

— Richard Teng (@_RichardTeng) May 7, 2024

Teng also highlighted a statement made by a prosecutor for Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) during Gambaryan’s bail hearing on April 25, which implied that the government was using the employee’s detention as leverage against Binance. “The message from the Nigerian government is clear: we must detain an innocent, mid-level employee and a former US federal agent, and place him in a dangerous prison in order to control Binance,” Teng stated.

The Binance CEO, who took over from Changpeng Zhao in November, pledged to work with global regulators and enforcement agencies, restructuring the organization and bringing in new leadership with compliance experience. In November, Zhao pleaded guilty in the US for failing to implement an effective anti-money laundering program, with Binance agreeing to pay $4.3 billion in one of the largest corporate settlements in history.

Teng outlined the events leading up to the current situation, beginning with Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission issuing digital asset regulations in May 2022. Despite Binance’s attempts to comply, the exchange faced unclear requirements and non-responsiveness from the SEC.

In June 2023, the US SEC accused Binance of operating illegally, prompting the exchange to suspend the solicitation of Nigerian investors.

In an effort to address concerns about Binance’s role in Nigeria’s currency crisis, Teng made the decision to turn off the exchange’s P2P product and end the trading of all naira pairs on the spot exchange product for Nigeria. However, this action did not result in the release of the detained employees.

Teng asked the Nigerian regulators to allow Gambaryan to return home to his family. After that, Binance promised would work with Nigeria’s law enforcement and the Federal Inland Revenue Service to remove “bad actors” from its platform and resolve potential tax liabilities.

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