Nigeria says wanted crypto boss Arjarwalla is holed up in Kenya

Nadeem Arjarwalla, a British-Kenyan, was earlier detained in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into Binance’s activities in Nigeria, according to a Reuters News Agency report. [iStockphoto]

Nigerian authorities say they have located Nadeem Arjarwalla, a wanted senior executive with a global cryptocurrency platform, in Kenya. 

Arjarwalla reportedly escaped from Nigerian custody after facing tax evasion charges against his company, Binance, a cryptocurrency exchange.

Nigerian officials are now said to be working with Kenyan authorities to extradite Arjarwalla to Nigeria.

The Binance executive, a British-Kenyan, was earlier detained in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into Binance’s activities in Nigeria, according to a Reuters News Agency report.

Nigerian media reports quoting the Nigerian government claim that Arjarwalla went into hiding in Kenya after escaping custody.

The Standard had not yet received confirmation from Kenyan authorities or Binance regarding Arjarwalla’s presence in Kenya or their cooperation in the extradition process by press time.

However, Nigerian media outlets reported that the Nigerian government is working with Interpol and Kenyan police to bring Arjarwalla back to face charges.

Arjarwalla arrived in Nigeria in February amid accusations of manipulating the Nigerian currency. He was detained with another Binance executive following a meeting with Nigerian officials.

The country’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission, which led the investigation, slapped the cryptocurrency exchange and its two executives with five counts bordering on money laundering.

However, Anjarwalla reportedly escaped custody on March 22 and was able to board a flight out of the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Nigeria’s security adviser’s office said it is working with Interpol to go after Anjarwalla, according to local media reports.

Binance in a recent report told Reuters News Agency that it was aware that Anjarwalla was no longer in Nigerian custody and was working with authorities to resolve the issue.

Anjarwalla and Tigran Gambaryan, a US citizen and Binance’s head of financial crime compliance flew to Nigeria following the country’s decision to ban several cryptocurrency trading websites and were detained on arrival on February 26.

A person representing them, who asked not to be named earlier told Reuters that the two officials were being held unlawfully since their detention order expired on March 12, adding that Anjarwalla left Nigeria by lawful means.

“Nadeem left unlawful custody on Saturday 23, he was not being tried by Nigerian courts and has not been informed of any charges against him,” the person told Reuters, according to its news report.

Nigerian authorities had asked a court in Abuja to extend the detention of the two Binance executives after the warrant under which they were initially detained lapsed, according to an earlier report.

Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) filed a case in Abuja accusing Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, of four counts of tax evasion.

The FIRS charges include non-payment of value-added tax, company income tax, failure to file tax returns, and complicity in helping customers evade taxes through its platform.

Binance said it would stop all transactions and trading in Nigeria’s local currency after March 8 following a country-wide crackdown on crypto exchanges that authorities have blamed for fuelling demand for US dollars on the black market.

The company said it would stop supporting withdrawals and any remaining balances in Nigerian naira would be automatically converted into Tether - a stablecoin whose value is pegged to the US dollar.

Nigeria found itself in a high-profile global spotlight previously when in November 2022, a Nigerian social media influencer who called himself Ray Hushpuppi and flaunted a lavish lifestyle supported by the alleged laundering of millions of dollars was sentenced by an American Court in Los Angeles to more than 11 years in US federal prison.

Hushpuppi, whose real name is Ramon Abbas, was also ordered by a US federal judge to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims, according to a statement from the United States Department of Justice.

The convicted fraud, who had built up a large social media following in Nigeria with posts detailing his lavish lifestyle, was extradited from Dubai to the United States in July 2020 to face criminal charges.

Hushpuppi had more than two million Instagram followers before he was arrested.

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