April 23, 2024

Court fixes May 17 to rule on detained Binance executive’s request for bail

Breaking: Court remands Binance executive in prison custody over money laundering

Breaking: Court remands Binance executive in prison custody over money laundering

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has fixed May 17 to determine whether a top official of Binance Holdings Limited, Tigran Gambaryan, who is currently in prison custody, should be released on bail, pending the determination of the money laundering charge against him.

Trial Justice Emeka Nwite adjourned to rule on Gambaryan’s bail request on a day the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is prosecuting him, urged the court to allow him to remain at Kuje prison.

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The anti-graft agency told the court that it got reliable intelligence that plans were afoot for the defendant to escape from custody and flee the country like his colleague.

It told the court that the defendant had attempted to secure a brand new international passport from the embassy of the United States of America.

EFCC further alleged that the defendant is an Armenian citizen by birth, saying there was a clear danger that he would jump bail if released from custody.

The defendant had in an application he filed on April 4 through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Mark Mordi, SAN, relied on provisions of sections 157 and 162 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, to plead for bail.

He contended that the charge the EFCC preferred against him contained bailable offences, insisting that under the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, he is presumed innocent of the allegations against him.

Mordi, SAN, argued that the prosecution failed to place any evidence before the court to establish that his client posed a flight risk.

“The prosecution has not presented any credible evidence to establish why the defendant should not be granted bail,” the defense lawyer submitted, adding that the claim that his client was planning to escape from the country was based on “hearsay, unreliable and inadmissible evidence.”

“My client is anxious and very desirous to prove his Innocence. This whole thing is that they want to use the defendant as a leverage to obtain information from his employer. That is basically what this case is all about.

“This is purely a state-sanctioned hostage-taking,” the defence counsel added.

He, therefore, prayed the court to grant the defendant bail and stipulate conditions that would ensure his attendance at his trial.

However, while opposing the bail application, EFCC’s counsel, Mr. Ekele Iheanacho, drew attention of the court to the fact that the defendant’s colleague escaped from lawful custody.

“There was an attempt by this defendant to procure another travelling document even when he was aware that his passport was in the custody of the state. He pretended as if the said passport was stolen.

“My lord, he made the move within the same period that his colleague escaped from custody and fled the country.

“If not that operatives of the Commission intercepted him, that act would have been completed.

“This court will be taking a grave risk to grant the defendant bail. This is also considering the fact that he has no attachment to any community in Nigeria.

“The fact that the passport of the defendant is with the complainant does not also guarantee that he will remain in Nigeria. He is not only an American citizen, he was born in Armenia and has citizenship by birth.

“The experience we have had with the man who escaped to Kenya while his United Kingdom passport is in Nigeria will certainly repeat itself if this defendant is granted bail.

“Because of information we have received, we have even proposed that the defendant be returned to EFCC custody where he will be taken good care of, instead of the prison. It was an option we initially opposed.

“The 1st defendant (Binance) is operating virtually. The only thing we have to hold on to is this defendant. So, we pray my lord to refuse bail to the defendant,” the prosecution counsel added.

After he had listened to both sides, trial Justice Emeka Nwite adjourned the matter for ruling.

Gambaryan is answering to a five-count charge alongside his employer, Binance Holdings Limited.

The Federal Government had arrested and detained him and his colleague, Nadeem Anjarwalla over the alleged involvement of their firm in money laundering and terrorism financing.

Even though their international passports were seized, however, Anjarwalla, who is the Africa Regional Manager of Binance, escaped from custody and fled to Kenya, with the government initiating the process to arrest and extradite him back to the country for trial.

Despite the development, both the EFCC and the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, slammed separate criminal charges against the duo and the company.

Whereas the anti-graft agency is prosecuting the company and Gambaryan for alleged financial malfeasance, the FIRS, in its own charge, accused the defendants of engaging in tax fraud.