•Launches manhunt as Nigerians blast FG over security lapse

•FG files tax evasion charges against crypto firm   •We’re aware he fled, company confirms

 

By Chinelo Obogo and Merit Ibe

Fresh details have emerged on how a senior executive of Binance, Nadeem Anjarwalla, escaped from the custody of the National Security Adviser’s Office (ONSA) a day after the Nigerian government slammed a four-count criminal charge on him, Tigran Gambaryan and the company.

Anjarwalla, 38, was one of the two Binance executives detained in Nigeria for alleged tax evasion and other offences.

However, on Friday, March 22, he escaped from the Abuja guest house where he was detained after the security guards on duty reportedly led him to a nearby mosque for Ramadan prayers. He was reported to have fled using a Middle Eastern airline. After he was arrested, his British passport was reportedly seized by the Federal Government.

But the Head, Strategic Communication of ONSA, Zakari Mijinyawa, said in a statement that Mr. Anjarwalla, who holds British and Kenyan citizenship, fled Nigeria using a smuggled passport.

Mijinyawa said: “The Office of the National Security Adviser confirms that Nadeem Anjarwalla, a suspect in the ongoing criminal probe into the activities of Binance in Nigeria escaped from lawful custody on Friday, 22 March 2024.  Upon receiving this report, this office took immediate steps, in conjunction with relevant security agencies, MDAs, as well as the international community, to apprehend the suspect. Security agencies are working with Interpol for an international arrest warrant on the suspect.

“Preliminary investigation shows that Mr Anjarwalla fled Nigeria using a smuggled passport. The personnel responsible for the custody of the suspect have been arrested, and a thorough investigation is ongoing to unravel the circumstances that led to his escape from lawful detention. Recall that the Federal Government of Nigeria, like other governments around the world, has been investigating money laundering and terrorism financing transactions perpetrated on the Binance currency exchange platform.  Until his escape, Nadeem Anjarwalla, who holds British and Kenyan nationalities and serving as Binance’s Africa regional manager, was being tried by Nigerian courts. The suspect escaped while under a 14-day remand order by a court in Nigeria. He was scheduled to appear before the court again on 4 April 2024.”

Reacting to the development, Binance spokesperson, Samantha Fuller said: “We were made aware that Nadeem is no longer in Nigerian custody. Our primary focus remains on the safety of our employees and we are working collaboratively with Nigerian authorities to quickly resolve this issue.”

As soon as news of his escape broke, Nigerians took to X (formerly twitter), coming down hard on the ONSA, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and other government apparatuses, describing them as incompetent. They also called for the sack of the NSA, Nuhu Ribadu.

A lawyer, Ilemona said: “How can we expect to be secure and safe in our country when the NSA cannot safeguard someone in his own custody?  How do we track kidnappers and terrorists when the NSA cannot track a high-profile person he arrested and detained in “secure” facilities in the nation’s capital? How will the security architecture stop people from attacking us when it cannot stop someone the NSA detained from leaving the country through an airport in the capital city? Nothing tells the incompetence of the NSA explains the insecurity in Nigeria like this. He was directly in the custody of this detainee in a “secure” location. The detainee escaped and left the country and there were no triggers in the national security apparatus to stop him at any of the nations’ ports of exit. I don’t think there can be a bigger display of incompetence and ineptitude.”

Meanwhile, Dare Adekanmbi, Special Adviser, Media to the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Zacch Adedeji, on Monday disclosed that the federal government has filed tax evasion charges against Binance.

He noted that the action feeds into the federal government’s agenda of upholding fiscal responsibility and safeguarding the economic integrity of the country.

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“The charges, filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, were announced on Monday by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

“The lawsuit, designated as suit number FHC/ABJ/CR/115/2024, implicates Binance with a four-count tax evasion accusation.

“Joined with the crypto company as second and third defendants in the suit are Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla, both senior executives of Binance currently under the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)” Adekanbi explained.

The charges levied against Binance include non-payment of Value-Added Tax (VAT), Company Income Tax, failure to file tax returns, and complicity in aiding customers to evade taxes through its platform.

In the suit, the federal government also accused Binance of failure to register with FIRS for tax purposes and contravening existing tax regulations within the country.

One of the counts in the lawsuit pertains to Binance’s alleged failure to collect and remit various categories of taxes to the federation as stipulated by Section 40 of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 as amended.

Section 40 of the Act explicitly addresses the non-deduction and non-remittance of taxes, prescribing penalties and potential imprisonment for defaulting entities.

The charges further detail specific instances where Binance purportedly violated tax laws, such as failing to issue invoices for VAT purposes, thus obstructing the determination and payment of taxes by subscribers.

“Any company that transacts business in excess of N25 million annually is deemed by the Finance Act to be present in Nigeria.

“According to this rule, Binance falls into that category. So, it has to pay taxes like Company Income Tax (CIT) and also collect and pay Value Added Tax (VAT).

“But Binance did not do this properly. So, the company broke Nigerian laws and could be investigated and taken to court for this infraction,” Adekanmbi said.

The Federal Government remains resolute in its commitment to ensuring compliance with tax regulations and combating financial impropriety within the cryptocurrency sector.

FIRS, by the law setting it up and various others, is empowered to assess, collect and account for revenue accruing to the Federation and administer relevant tax laws.

Binance pleaded guilty to flouting anti-money laundering laws in the United States in late 2023, settling for a plea bargain that cost the company $4.3billion.