Binance locked in standoff with Nigeria, CEO claims bribery attempt

Binance CEO Richard Teng criticised the recent actions taken by Nigerian authorities against the cryptocurrency exchange. Nigeria is one of Binance's biggest markets. Teng claimed that officials demanded a bribe in exchange for resolving the situation.

Binance locked in standoff with Nigeria, CEO claims bribery attempt
Detained Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan in a Nigerian courtroom on April 4. Credit: Abraham Achirga/Reuters

A tense standoff continues between cryptocurrency exchange Binance and Nigerian authorities. Over 70 days ago, Nigerian officials detained two Binance executives – Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla – during a probe into alleged market manipulation.

Anjarwalla, the regional manager for Africa, managed to escape custody. However, Gambaryan, who heads Binance's anti-crime efforts, remains imprisoned at Kuje Prison in Abuja for the last four weeks.

Binance CEO Richard Teng released a statement detailing the company's interactions with Nigerian officials. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Binance seeks regulation, gets silence: Since regulations for cryptocurrency exchanges were introduced in May 2022, Binance has reportedly attempted to get a license but received no response from the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  • Alleged bribery attempt: Following a public hearing in January 2024, Binance representatives were reportedly contacted by unidentified individuals claiming to represent a House committee. These individuals allegedly demanded a $150 million (to be paid into a crypto account) bribe to erase accusations against Binance. Binance refused.
  • Detention after scheduled meeting: On February 26, Anjarwalla and Gambaryan attended a meeting with high-ranking Nigerian officials, including the National Security Adviser, SEC Chief Executive, and a Central Bank deputy governor. Teng claims the meeting initially seemed productive, but the executives were then arrested by anti-corruption officers.
  • Then came the demands: During a subsequent meeting before the arrest, Binance was allegedly pressured to:
    • Delist the Nigerian Naira currency from its platform. (Binance halted Nigerian Naira transactions on March 8).
    • Provide extensive details on all Nigerian users.
    • Hand over financial and tax compliance information.

Binance denies wrongdoing and is challenging the accusations. Teng argues Gambaryan's detention sets a "dangerous precedent" and calls for his release.

"Let Tigran go home to his family, and then Binance will work through the same process that we have done with Nigeria's law enforcement community voluntarily more than 600 times in the past," Teng said.

The situation remains unresolved, with tensions high between the cryptocurrency giant and the Nigerian government.

Zakari Mijinyawa, a spokesman for the Office of the National Security Adviser told the New York Times. "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 the Nigerian government would make its case "on the strength of the facts and evidence, following due process".

Get weekly insights on tech startups and VC in Africa