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Tinubu/Ribadu/Cardoso and BinanceGate: Gaffe or Deliberate Sabotage?

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President Bola Ahmed Tinubu / Special Adviser on Security, Nuhu Ribadu
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu / Special Adviser on Security, Nuhu Ribadu

Just when you think we are getting it right, something very ridiculous and outrightly stupid happens. Is this country cursed or what; can we ever get our acts right as a nation of sensible people or we just continue to allow ourselves to be ridiculed by the outside world?

Everybody just comes here and take us for a ride simply because we don’t even take ourselves seriously as a nation especially those that have been lucky to find themselves in corridors of power as government operatives.

Mr Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance’s Africa regional manager, and Tigran Gambaryan, a US citizen overseeing financial crime compliance at the crypto exchange platform, were detained upon their arrival in Nigeria on 26 February 2024 when they reportedly arrived to discuss the country’s decision to ban some cryptocurrency trading websites, including Binance, Coinbase and Kraken.

The office of the National Security Adviser in Nigeria detained the pair and seized their passports. Ahead of their detention, Olayemi Cardoso, the CBN governor, told reporters in February that government was concerned about “illicit flows” going through a number of crypto platforms operating in the country. The concerns about crypto trading come as Nigeria struggled with currency devaluation. In the past year, the value of the Nigerian currency, the naira, has fallen 70 percent against the U.S. dollar.

It was alleged that the company has been manipulating foreign exchange rates in the country which negatively affected the value of the naira against the dollar. He went on to say that “in one year, $26 billion passed through Binance Nigeria “from sources and users who we cannot adequately identify.”

Mr Anjarwalla, 38, escaped on Friday, 22 March, from the Abuja guest house where he and his colleague were detained after guards on duty allegedly led him to a nearby mosque for prayers in the spirit of the ongoing Ramadan fast.

The Office of the National Security Adviser just casually announced this weighty security breach and since then, the nation has moved on as if ‘nothing spoil’. Chai, Nigeria!

There are so many issues that need to be addressed on the side of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Nuhu Ribadu. The Office of the National Security Adviser is not a security agency and has no detention facility. So why did the NSA not handover the detained Binance executives to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the DSS for custody as has been the practice all these while in matters that has to do with financial crimes and economic sabotage?

Why did the Office of the NSA failed to watch-list the escapee Anjarwalla and his colleague when they were detained in Abuja late February?

Anjarwalla and Gambaryan should have been placed on watch-list with the Nigeria Immigration Service with their photos and names flagged at all airports and border crossings across the country. If the man has been flagged as a threat or a suspected person, he should have been watch-listed.

Does the Office of the NSA have a detention facility? The answer is no! So in the wisdom of Nigeria’s NSA, the best place to detain the suspects who are being investigated over such serious issue of alleged financial crime involving tens of billions of dollars, was a poorly secured Guest House? Haba, Mallam!

The NSA is an advisory body to the President. So, if he (NSA Nuhu Ribadu) felt that the suspects should be remanded, he should have sent them to the EFCC or the DSS to keep until the date of their court appearance but to keep them in a guest house where they have access to telephone tells a whole lot of story about both the Office of the NSA and the nation’s entire security system.

Who wants to believe the cock and bull story of the escapee asking for and receiving permission to go and pray at a nearby mosque. In the first instance, why should any sane operative especially in the elevated Office of the National Security Adviser allow a high profile detainee and an expatriate for that matter to go and pray outside the holding facility/building?

As said by a former Director General of the DSS, there are a lot of loopholes and lapses in this matter that both the Ribadu and his boys need to explain to Nigerians and the global community if this government wants to be taken seriously at the comity of nations.

High profile suspects have been detained in this country including governors, senators, ministers, captains of industry etc and they prayed where they live and eat and sleep.

“So, I don’t see why this particular guy will be allowed to go to the nearest mosque to pray and disappeared. There is a compromise,” the former secret police boss had said , stressing that “the fleeing suspect must have rubbed hands with some conniving security agents. I’m happy they’ve arrested some of them. Let them interrogate them and tell us how much he gave them.”

The NSA himself has a big question to answer as the buck ends on his table and he should be told in any language he understands that we are not moving on as usual pretending that ‘nothing spoil’. Bros something don spoil well well!

The Binance executives were due to appear in court on April 4.

Let’s get the background to this matter so we can appreciate the callousness of the security breach by the Office of the National Security Adviser.

The crypto platform subsequently ended its naira services while the House of Representatives has resolved to investigate the national security implications of cryptocurrency, and other digital asset transactions.

Subsequently, the government approached the court to compel Binance to publish the names of its Nigerian traders but the platform won’t budge.

A criminal charge was filed against the two executives before a Magistrate Court in Abuja. On 28 February 2024, the court granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) an order to remand the duo for 14 days. The court also ordered Binance to provide the Nigerian government with the data/information of Nigerians trading on its platform.

Following Binance’s refusal to comply with the order, the court extended the remand of the officials for an additional 14 days to prevent them from tampering with evidence. The court then adjourned the case till 4 April 2024.

Also on 22 March, the Nigerian government approached the Federal High Court in Abuja and slammed another four-count charge on Binance Holdings Limited, Mr Anjarwalla and Mr Gambaryan, accusing them of offering services to subscribers on their platform while failing to register with the Federal Inland Revenue Service to pay all relevant taxes administered by the Service and in so doing, committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 8 of the Value Added Tax Act of 1993 (as Amended).

The defendants were also 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 and, in so doing, committed an offence contrary to and punishable under S.29 of the Value Added Tax Act of 1993 (as amended).

Count Three of the charges accused the three defendants of offering services to subscribers on their Binance trading platform for the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies and the remittance and transfer of those assets while failing to deduct the necessary Value Added Taxes arising from their operations and thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 40 of the Federal Inland Revenue Service Establishment Act 2007 (as amended).

The last count of the charges wants the defendants punished for allegedly aiding and abetting subscribers on their Binance trading platform to unlawfully refuse to pay taxes or neglect to pay those taxes and, in so doing, committing an offence contrary to and punishable under the provisions of S.94 of the Companies Income Tax Act (as amended).

The Nigerian government had, in the past three months, been cracking down on suspected money launderers and terrorism financiers, some of whom it alleged are using the Binance platform for criminal activities

The government claimed its investigations revealed that unscrupulous elements were using Binance for money laundering, terrorist financing, currency speculation and market manipulation, distorting the Nigerian economy and weakening the Naira against other currencies

The detention of Binance officials in Nigeria began months after the crypto exchange platform pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle criminal money laundering charges levied by the US Department of Justice.

Without doubt, what transpired that culminated in the escape from detention by the Binance executive is a clear and deliberate compromise of the genuine, patriotic, and focused efforts of the CBN governor at identifying and sealing off all channels of drain to our national economy particularly the sleaze in our foreign exchange and our local currency management.

This is the reason President Tinubu should not treat this matter casually. The Office of the NSA need to be rebuked for this gaffe which looks more like a deliberate compromise to undermine the CBN governor. It’s not just one in the plethora of slips by our government operatives as this heavily borders on our national security as a nation of people.

(IFEANYI IZEZE, Abuja: iizeze@yahoo.com; 234-8033043009)

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