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    Binance Executive in Nigeria Closer to Release as Court Reframes Charges Amid US Lawmakers’ Pressure

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    The Federal High Court of Nigeria has discharged Tigran Gambaryan, a 39-year-old American, and Nadeem Anjarwalla from a tax evasion case brought by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) against the cryptocurrency exchange platform, Binance. This decision follows Binance’s appointment of a Nigerian representative to address the charges.

    Court Proceedings and Charges

    On Friday, the court struck out the charges against Gambaryan and Anjarwalla after FIRS filed amended charges, naming Binance as the sole defendant. This amendment came after Binance confirmed the appointment of Ayodele Omotilewa as its official Nigerian representative. The fresh charges now solely implicate Binance in allegations of failing to collect and remit various taxes, including Value Added Tax (VAT) and Company Income Tax (CIT), from its operations in Nigeria.

    According to court documents, the allegations against Binance include aiding subscribers on its platform in evading tax payments, which is contrary to the provisions of the Companies Income Tax Act. FIRS told the court that Binance ’s operations in Nigeria generated over $20 billion in 2023 alone.

    Defense and Legal Arguments

    During the proceedings, Binance’s counsel, Tonye Krukrubo SAN, informed the court of the company’s compliance with appointing a Nigerian representative. Counsel for FIRS, Moses Idehu, confirmed the new charges and requested the court’s permission to substitute the old charges with the fresh ones dated June 13, 2024. As a result, the names of Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were removed from the case.

    A key point of contention was whether the Nigerian representative should stand in the dock to take a plea on behalf of Binance. Krukrubo argued that Nigerian law does not mandate a company representative to do so, a position contested by FIRS. Justice Emeka Nwite requested written submissions from both parties to resolve this issue.

    Judicial Ruling

    Justice Nwite struck out the previous charges and set July 12 as the next court date for further proceedings and plea discussions. The court also directed that the legal teams file documents addressing the requirement for the Nigerian representative to stand in the dock.

    Broader Context and Implications

    The ruling on the FIRS case comes amid broader legal challenges for Binance in Nigeria. Separate charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) involve allegations of money laundering and foreign exchange violations. Gambaryan and Anjarwalla, previously detained by Nigerian authorities, are still defendants in the EFCC’s case. Anjarwalla, a British-Kenyan, fled custody, while Gambaryan remains detained.

    The Federal Government’s actions against Binance are part of a larger crackdown on cryptocurrency trading, which officials blame for exacerbating Nigeria’s foreign exchange crisis. The naira has significantly devalued, losing 70% of its value against the dollar since recent foreign exchange reforms.

    International Repercussions

    Gambaryan’s detention has attracted international attention, particularly from the United States. A coalition of U.S. lawmakers has urged President Joe Biden to secure his release, citing concerns over his health and the conditions of his detention in Kuje Prison. The lawmakers argue that Gambaryan’s detention is unjust and meets the criteria for wrongful detention under U.S. law.

    In a letter to President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and other officials, the lawmakers described Gambaryan’s situation as “hostage-taking” and called for immediate diplomatic intervention to ensure his release and safety.

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