Nadeem Anjarwalla should be made to face the consequences of his actions

The federal government last week contacted the International Criminal Police Organisation and issued a warrant for the arrest of an executive of Binance, Nadeem Anjarwalla, who recently escaped from lawful custody. Anjarwalla, along with his colleague, Tigran Gambaryan of the global crypto-currency firm, were both arrested and detained on arrival in the country on 26 February on allegation that their company engaged in currency manipulation. Kept in a ‘safe house’ guarded by security men in Abuja, Anjarwalla fled the country on the pretext of going to the mosque to pray, according to reports.

The escape of the Binance Africa Regional Manager is as shocking as it is worrying. It has exposed serious lapses in the country’s security system. To be sure, there have been other similar escapes across the world, like that of Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn who fled a house arrest in Japan to his country Lebanon in 2019. But for Nigeria, it is one too many, especially at a time the country is battling serious challenges both on the security and economic fronts. President Bola Tinubu has made several promises to plug the serial security failures and leaks across board. Yet, everything is looking the same even with all the attempts to make it look different.

In the past few months, the economy has been oscillating between paralysis and meltdown. The Nigerian currency, Naira, has depreciated rapidly against other currencies. That has impacted badly on the living conditions of the people. Nigeria is Africa’s largest crypto economy in terms of trade volume. As the country’s currency suffers from sharp deterioration with the attendant surging inflation many citizens are using crypto to hedge their funds. Reports have linked the online crypto exchange company platform to serious financial crimes and economic sabotage.

In the past few months, the federal government has been cracking down on suspected money launderers and terrorism financiers, some of whom it alleged were using Binance for criminal activities, including money laundering. According to the federal government, Binance is manipulating the country’s exchange rate and in the process weakening the naira against other currencies.  The  government has noted that over $26 billion was traded on the crypto exchange platform in the previous year. But Binance has refused to share the identities of its top users in Nigeria as well as the transaction history for the past six months.

Binance has pledged to cooperate with Nigerian authorities to resolve these serious allegations. But the company is also alleged to be involved in other financial improprieties. It has been accused of offering services to subscribers on their platform while failing to register with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to pay all relevant taxes. In addition, Binance has been accused of offering taxable services to subscribers on their trading platform while failing to issue invoices to those subscribers to determine and pay their value-added taxes.

What is more worrying in this saga is that the authorities are acutely aware of the track record of Binance. The detention of Binance officials in Nigeria started months after the crypto exchange platform pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle criminal money laundering charges levied by the United States Department of Justice. Indeed, Binance founder and chief excutive, Changpeng Zhao pleaded guilty and agreed to resign. His criminal trial by the US court is coming up later this month (30 April 2024).

It is therefore a shame that a principal suspect in such a case would be allowed to escape from custody in Nigeria. Beyond apprehending and punishing security officials complicit in Anjarwalla’s escape from the country, the federal government must do everything to ensure that those who contributed to the current economic hardship are brought to justice.

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