Ex-Federal Prosecutors and Agents Urge U.S. Government to Secure Release of Binance Executive Detained in Nigeria

In a concerted effort, over 100 former U.S. federal prosecutors and agents have called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to intensify efforts to secure the release of Tigran Gambaryan, a Binance executive, who has been detained in Nigeria under dubious circumstances. The group’s letter, spearheaded by former federal prosecutor Katie Haun, underscores the urgent need for diplomatic intervention to address what they describe as an “unjust” and “inhumane” detention, Axios reported.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and former IRS Special Agent, currently serves as the head of financial crimes compliance at Binance. In January 2024, Gambaryan, along with other Binance representatives, traveled to Nigeria to discuss financial compliance with local officials. Following these discussions, Nigerian representatives allegedly demanded a substantial payment to resolve compliance issues concerning Binance. The Binance team left Nigeria, concerned for their safety.

Gambaryan returned to Nigeria in February 2024, following assurances of safety by Nigerian officials. However, upon arrival, he was arrested and charged with money laundering and tax evasion. These charges are widely considered baseless by Gambaryan’s supporters, who argue that he is being used as a scapegoat due to his mid-tier role at Binance.

Since his arrest, Gambaryan has been held in Kuje Prison, notorious for housing some of Nigeria’s most dangerous criminals, including Boko Haram terrorists. His detention conditions have been described as deplorable. Despite a court order, Nigerian officials have refused to transfer him to a hospital after he collapsed in court, suspected of having malaria and a severe throat infection. Gambaryan’s access to legal representation and communication with his family has also been severely restricted.

The collective letter from the former prosecutors and agents criticizes the U.S. government’s response as inadequate, stressing that the consequences of continued inaction could be severe. They highlight Gambaryan’s distinguished career with the IRS, where he played pivotal roles in high-profile investigations, including the Silk Road public corruption cases, the BTC-e exchange, the 2020 Twitter hack, and the Mt. Gox hack.

The letter, addressed to Secretary Blinken, calls for leveraging the full power of U.S. diplomacy to secure Gambaryan’s release. It emphasizes that his detention is an attempt to coerce Binance into resolving a matter that does not directly implicate Gambaryan.

The call for Gambaryan’s release has garnered support beyond the former prosecutors and agents. Sixteen members of Congress have also sent a letter to President Joe Biden, Secretary Blinken, and diplomat Roger Carstens, urging that Gambaryan’s case be transferred to the State Department’s special envoy for hostage affairs. They express deep concern for his life and insist that immediate action is necessary to ensure his safety.

A State Department spokesperson has acknowledged awareness of Gambaryan’s detention, and a White House spokesperson referred inquiries back to the State Department, indicating ongoing discussions at the federal level.

The detention of Tigran Gambaryan in Nigeria has significant implications for international business operations and the treatment of foreign nationals by host countries. It highlights the risks faced by compliance officers and other corporate representatives working in volatile regions. The international business community is closely monitoring the situation, as it may influence future engagements and negotiations in similar contexts.