Binance’s Top Crypto Crime Investigator Is Being Detained in Nigeria

In his years as a US federal agent, Tigran Gambaryan helped to lead landmark investigations that took down cryptocurrency thieves and money launderers, dark-web drug dealers, and even crypto-funded child exploitation networks. Now, in his post-government role at the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, he has become the target himself of a very different sort of federal crypto crackdown: For the past two weeks, he and another Binance executive have been detained against their will by Nigerian officials.

Since February 26, Gambaryan, who now leads Binance’s criminal investigations team, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance’s Kenya-based regional manager for Africa, have been stripped of their passports and held in confinement at a government property in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Neither has been informed of any criminal charge against them, according to their families. Instead, the two men appear to have been swept up in Nigeria’s broad actions to ban cryptocurrency exchanges amid a drastic devaluation of the country’s national currency, according to the Financial Times, which was first to report the two executives’ detention without identifying them.

“There’s no definite answer for anything: how’s he’s doing, what’s going to happen to him, when he’s coming back,” says Gambaryan’s wife, Yuki Gambaryan. “And not knowing that is killing me.”

Gambaryan, a US citizen, and Anjarwalla, a dual citizen of the UK and Kenya, arrived in Abuja on February 25, their families say, following the Nigerian government’s invitation to address its ongoing dispute with Binance. They met with Nigerian officials the next day, intending to speak to the government about its order to the country’s telecoms to block access to Binance and other cryptocurrency exchanges, which regulators blamed for devaluing its official currency, the naira, and for enabling “illicit flows” of funds.

Shortly after Gambaryan and Anjarwalla’s first meeting with the Nigerian government, however, Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were taken to their hotels, told to pack their things, and moved into a “guesthouse” run by Nigeria’s National Security Agency, according to their families. Officials seized their passports and have since held the two men at the house against their will for two weeks and counting.

Gambaryan has been visited by a US State Department official and Anjarwalla by a representative of the UK foreign office, their families say, but Nigerian government guards have also remained present in those meetings, preventing them from speaking privately.

When WIRED reached out to Binance, a spokesperson declined to comment on what the men or the company itself has been accused of or what demands the Nigerian government may have made for their release. “While it is inappropriate for us to comment on the substance of the claims at this time, we can say that we are working collaboratively with Nigerian authorities to bring Nadeem and Tigran back home safely to their families,” a Binance spokesperson tells WIRED. “They are professionals with the highest integrity and we will provide them all the support we can. We trust there will be a swift resolution to this matter.”

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