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BRIBERY ALLEGATION: Nigeria challenges Binance CEO

BRIBERY ALLEGATION: Nigeria challenges Binance CEO

The Nigerian government on Tuesday vowed to pursue the criminal case against the crypto platform, Binance, and its officials, to a logical end.

Reacting to the bribery allegation made by the Binance Chief Executive Officer, Richard Teng, in a blog post published by the New York Times (NYT), a Nigerian official described Teng’s allegations as false and unfounded.

Teng had alleged that some individuals demanded $150m bribe in cryptocurrency to settle the criminal charge against the firm.

The NYT on Tuesday reported that on a trip to Nigeria in January, Tigran Gambaryan, a compliance officer with the exchange, received an unsettling message: The company had 48 hours to make a payment of roughly $150m in crypto.

Gambaryan, a former United States law enforcement agent, understood the message as a request for a bribe from someone in the Nigerian government.

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The incident allegedly occurred before Gambaryan and a colleague, Nadeem Anjarwalla, were arrested and detained on the orders of the Nigeria’s National Security Adviser.

Anjarwalla subsequently escaped and has been traced to Kenya. Reports said he may be brought back to Nigeria.

Gambaryan, on the other hand, has been held in Kuje prison in the last four weeks, after he was transferred there from a safe house on April 8.

Both Binance and Gambaryan are facing trial for tax evasion and money laundering.

Their trial was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but the court postponed it until May 17.

Gambaryan reportedly wrote a three-page report describing the payment request and gave it to Binance’s lawyers, two people familiar with the report told NYT.

He also reportedly alerted contacts in the Nigerian government and recounted the incident to them.

Binance had denied that Gambaryan had any “decision-making power” in the company.

The case is the latest legal headache for Binance, which agreed to a $4.3bn fine last year to settle charges by the US government that it allowed criminal activity to flourish on its platform.

In April, the company’s founder, Changpeng Zhao, was sentenced to four months in prison for his role in those violations.

The spokesman for the Office of the National Ssecurity Adviser, Zakari Mijinyawa, said in a text message to NYT that the federal government would make its case “on the strength of the facts and evidence, in accordance with due process.”

“We are confident that Nigeria has a good case. Binance equally will have every opportunity under the rule of law to make its case and see justice delivered,” Mijinyawa said.

In his post, Teng laid out the history of Binance’s engagement with Nigeria, which has become a hotspot for the crypto industry.

Nigeria has the second-highest rate of crypto adoption in the world behind India, according to Chainalysis, a data firm.

In 2023, the financial regulators issued a statement directing Binance to stop soliciting investors in Nigeria.

Binance halted its advertising in the country and offered to meet with government officials, Teng said.

On January 8, Teng said Gambaryan and a group of Binance employees met with lawmakers, but the meeting was contentious

The lawmakers, he wrote, read aloud a list of accusations against Binance, including tax violations.

They also threatened to pursue an arrest warrant for Teng, the article said.

As the Binance employees left the meeting, Teng wrote they were approached by “unknown persons” who suggested that they make a payment to settle the allegations.

Later, a local lawyer representing Binance spoke with someone purporting to be an agent of the House committee, Teng further claimed in his article, adding that the purported agent demanded “a significant payment in cryptocurrency to be paid in secret within 48 hours to make these issues go away,”

The amount was roughly $150m, four people familiar with the matter said, according to a Bloomberg report, quoting NYT sources.

“Our team grew increasingly concerned about their safety in Nigeria and immediately departed. We, of course, declined the payment demand via our counsel, not viewing it to be a legitimate settlement offer,” Teng wrote in his post.

Teng claimed that Binance had received assurances that Gambaryan would be safe if he returned to Nigeria.

According to him, a company adviser with deep local connections recommended that Binance officials meet with the ONSA.

However, a prosecutor with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ekele Iheanacho, dismissed Teng’s allegation, vowing to prosecute the case to the end.

Iheanacho, one of the lawyers prosecuting the Binance officials, said, ‘’Nobody demanded any money, the case is being taken to a logical conclusion. He’s making it up although I am not aware of any such allegations. As far as I am concerned, the charges are going on and we are making every effort to ensure that we get to a logical end.’’

Officials from the EFCC and ONSA have challenged Binance to name the bribe offerors.

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