Image: Vadim Artyukhin via Unsplash

Nigeria charges Binance with tax evasion; one detained exec has fled and another still in custody

Nigeria has charged Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, with tax evasion after a monthlong standoff between the government and the company intensified. The country’s tax watchdog made the announcement public on Monday.

The charges, which also name two Binance executives, Nadeem Ahjarwalla and Tigran Gambaryan, were announced by the Federal Inland Revenue Service and were filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja on March 22. 

The exchange and the two executives are charged with four counts of tax evasion, including “non-payment of Value-Added Tax, Company income Tax, failure to tax returns, and complicity in aiding customers to evade taxes through its platform.” 

News of the charges is the latest twist following the Nigerian government’s decision to hold Ahjarwalla and Gambaryan without charge for weeks while regulators said they were investigating irregularities related to the platform. 

In a further twist over the weekend, Ahjarwalla managed to escape Nigerian custody. According to local media, he flew out of the country on his Kenyan passport, leaving Gambaryan, a former IRS agent and expert in cryptocurrency tracking, alone in the government guest house where they had been held.

The government alleges that Binance processed billions of dollars' worth of illicit funds and set an exchange rate for the local currency, the naira. Binance does not have a pool of naira, so it would be impossible for the company to set the rate.

The company did have peer-to-peer trading of the naira on its platform, and Nigerians have been using cryptocurrency as a hedge against inflation. The naira lost 40 percent of its value in the first three months of this year.  And many ordinary Nigerians are buying things that hold their value as a way to safeguard their spending power.

The U.S. dollar used to be a way to do that, because it is relatively stable, but now a lot of people hedge  by buying cryptocurrency, mostly because it’s just easier to buy and sell. They just have to log on to a cryptocurrency platform, and Binance is the platform of choice in Nigeria.

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Dina Temple-Raston

Dina Temple-Raston

is the Host and Managing Editor of the Click Here podcast as well as a senior correspondent at Recorded Future News. She previously served on NPR’s Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology, and social justice and hosted and created the award-winning Audible Podcast “What Were You Thinking.”