Behind Nigeria’s Arrest of Binance Employee, Claims of a Bribe Request

On a trip to Nigeria in January, Tigran Gambaryan, a compliance officer for the giant cryptocurrency exchange Binance, received an unsettling message: The company had 48 hours to make a payment of roughly $150 million in crypto.

Mr. Gambaryan, a former U.S. law enforcement agent, understood the message as a request for a bribe from someone in the Nigerian government, according to five people familiar with the matter and messages reviewed by The New York Times. He and a group of his Binance colleagues had just met with Nigerian legislators, who accused the company of tax violations and threatened to arrest its employees.

The Binance officials fled Nigeria in a panic. Later that month, Mr. Gambaryan wrote a three-page report describing the payment request and gave it to Binance’s lawyers, two people familiar with the report said. He also alerted contacts in the Nigerian government, the people said, and recounted the incident to them.

The episode was the backdrop for a second trip to Nigeria that Mr. Gambaryan took in February. On his return, he and a colleague, Nadeem Anjarwalla, were arrested by the Nigerian authorities, setting off a crisis at Binance.

Mr. Gambaryan has been held in Kuje prison in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, for the last four weeks, after he was transferred there from a government compound on April 8. His case is the latest legal headache for Binance, which agreed to a $4.3 billion fine last year to settle charges by the U.S. 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 Nigerian authorities have charged both Binance and Mr. Gambaryan with tax evasion and money laundering. Binance has denied that Mr. Gambaryan had any “decision-making power” in the company.

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