Why Binance executives’ arraignment stalled in Abuja Federal High Court

Tigran Gambaryan, an American citizen and Binance's head of financial crime compliance, attends a court hearing at the federal High Courts, in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, April 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)

By Emmanuel Babafemi

The anticipated arraignment of Binance Holdings Limited, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, and one of its Senior Executives, Tigray Gambaryan, faced a setback at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

The proceedings could not go on as planned due to the absence of service of the charge to the second defendant, Gambaryan, by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

The court session, which was expected to commence the legal proceedings against the cryptocurrency exchange giant and its executive, was halted as Gambaryan had not been formally served with the charges by FIRS. This procedural issue led to the postponement of the arraignment.

The delay raises questions about the coordination between the relevant authorities and highlights potential administrative hurdles in the legal process.

It underscores the importance of adhering to proper legal procedures in high-profile cases such as this.

Observers await further developments as the court seeks to address the issue of serving the charges to Gambaryan and subsequently proceed with the arraignment.

The outcome of this procedural delay could have significant implications for the legal proceedings and the parties involved.

Binance Holdings Limited and its executives continue to face scrutiny as they navigate legal challenges in various jurisdictions, reflecting the broader regulatory landscape surrounding the cryptocurrency industry.

Earlier appearance in court 

Nigerian authorities have asked a local court to prosecute Binance and two of its executives for alleged money laundering and tax evasion.

The request was made on Thursday, April 4, 2024, at the high court in the capital of Abuja where one of the executives, Gambaryan, was produced in court while the second remains at large after recently fleeing custody.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance’s head of financial crime compliance, who was produced in court and Nadeem Anjarwalla, a British-Kenyan who is a regional manager for Africa, now at large, we’re to be charged with four counts of tax evasion and with laundering over $35 million.

Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were detained on Feb. 26 in connection with a criminal investigation into Binance’s activities in Nigeria when they arrived in the country. Anjarwalla escaped from custody and fled the country, Reuters said.

Gambaryan was served with the charges for the first time since his detention during his court appearance and did not take a plea.

He will be formally arraigned for the money laundering and tax charges on April 8 and 19, respectively, when his plea will be taken.

Binance itself has not been charged by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has argued Gambaryan could face the charges on the exchange’s behalf.

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Gambaryan’s lawyer Chukwuka Ikuazom objected, saying he was “neither a director, partner nor company secretary” and had no written instructions from Binance to face the charges on its behalf.

Ikuazom also argued that since Binance and Gambaryan were jointly charged, he could not take a plea until the exchange, the first defendant in the case, had been served, according to Nigerian law.

Binance, which was not represented in court and had no immediate comment, said on Wednesday that it respectfully requested that Gambaryan, who had no decision-making power in the company, was not held responsible while discussions are ongoing with the Nigerian government.

Gambaryan has asked a Nigerian court to release him.

Nigeria blamed Binance for its currency woes after cryptocurrency websites emerged as platforms of choice for trading the Nigerian naira currency, as the country grappled with chronic dollar shortages.