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Cybercrime Fighting Heroes Held Hostage In Nigeria; Free Tigran and Nadeem

by Francesca Annio and Jake Adelstein

Just a routine business journey, or so they thought. Perhaps tossing in some extra formal shirts for official meetings, they packed their bags without a second thought. Little did they know, their trip would veer off course dramatically. Instead of a brief visit, Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla found themselves unexpectedly detained in Abuja, Nigeria, since February 26th, their days stretching into weeks under confinement.

Leveraging his background as a former US federal agent and his steadfast dedication to cryptocurrency regulation, Tigran took the helm as Head of Financial Crime Compliance at cryptocurrency powerhouse Binance in 2021. Amid his endeavors to enhance transaction transparency and stamp out unlawful activity in one of the world’s leading crypto platforms, fate dealt a bitter blow. Ironically, while striving to tighten the law to catch potential criminals, Tigran found himself unfairly labeled as one of them.

Nadeem Anjarwalla’s illustrious career trajectory brought him to Binance in 2022. Hailing from both Kenyan and British descent, he assumed the role of Kenya’s Binance regional manager for Africa. Committed to upholding ethics and transparency in his endeavors, he never anticipated finding himself in his current predicament.

Caught in the crossfire of baseless suspicions and misconceptions, both men are trapped amid the Nigerian government’s crackdown on cryptocurrency exchanges to curb speculation and stabilize the national currency, the naira. Common wisdom suggests that the ends justify the means. Yet, what if the means imperil the freedom and lives of two innocent souls? Are there any ends grand enough to justify such drastic actions?

Nigeria’s currency crisis has been escalating, marked by a plummeting naira and soaring inflation rates that persisted for over three decades. As the traditional financial system struggles, cryptocurrency has emerged as a potent alternative, offering an unofficial but influential market for currency exchange and investment. This digital economy boom has caught the government’s eye, leading to stringent regulations and oversight, often tipping into the realm of aggressive enforcement.

Tigran Gambaryan’s career is anchored by one constant: an unwavering dedication to justice and the law. Across various roles, he’s been a driving force in cleaning up the cryptocurrency world from misconduct and illegal activities. His impressive track record includes probing corrupt members of the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force and Ripple Labs (XRP). As an IRS-CI investigator, he’s represented the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, tackling crimes like money laundering, child pornography, tax evasion, and cyberattacks. His efforts led to the capture of the operator of Kick-Ass Torrents, the shutdown of the BTC-e bitcoin exchange, and the arrest of its operator, Alexander Vinnik.

But his contributions don’t end there. Tigran has also been instrumental in investigations alongside the US Secret Service, delving into cases like Alphabay, Wall Street Marketplace, Welcom2Video, and many more. Tigran Gambaryan’s career is undeniably impressive. What sets him apart, however, is his unwavering humanity, guiding him through the darkest corners of the human psyche with compassion and grace. Armed with a profound understanding of criminal psychology, he adeptly intervened to put an end to wrongdoing.

Nadeem Anjarwalla shines just as brightly, with a career spanning diverse markets and business ventures. A true business prodigy, he transitioned from a role as General Manager at Uber Eats East Africa to his current position as Regional Manager of Africa for Binance. His versatile talents defy categorization. His journey has been a relentless pursuit of regulatory compliance and licensed operations, paving the way for the widespread adoption of digital assets.

Nadeem and his wife Elahe on vacation. His baby son is waiting for his Dad to come home.

A champion for financial inclusion and digital innovation across the African continent, he remained steadfast in his commitment to values and integrity. By bringing the unbanked community into the financial fold, he catalyzed positive financial growth and forged new pathways for change. His vision transcended norms, imagining a future Africa propelled by innovation, accessible to all, and grounded in unwavering loyalty to compliance and security.

Armed with a background in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University (BA) and a Master’s degree from Stanford University (MA), Nadeem infuses the cryptocurrency landscape with refreshing talent and vision. His diverse cultural background enriches his perspective, bringing a unique viewpoint to the African financial realm.

Trapped unfairly

The detention of Tigran and Nadeem is merely the tip of the iceberg in a larger scheme involving top officials within the Nigerian government. With the naira plummeting in value and inflation soaring for three decades, cryptocurrency platforms offer an alternative marketplace, setting unofficial currency prices.

Official alarm bells are ringing loud and clear, with Nigeria’s central bank governor, Olayemi Cardoso, expressing grave concerns over the surge of illicit money flowing through crypto channels. Binance, notably, has come under scrutiny, accused of handling $26 billion from undisclosed sources and users last year. This led telecom companies to cut off access to major crypto exchanges, including Binance, sparking widespread controversy just last week.

Following the ban, Tigran and Nadeem were sent by Binance to resolve the ongoing dispute with Nigerian authorities on Feb. 25. The first meeting, held on the 26th, seemed promising, with various government agencies, including ONSA and the Central Bank, engaging in neutral discussions according to conversations with their families. However, hope turned to uncertainty when they were abruptly summoned to an impromptu meeting, waited for two hours, and faced a hostile atmosphere with different attendees. Soon after, they were escorted to their hotel and instructed to pack their belongings for relocation to a guest house under ONSA control.

Tigran and his wife Yuki in happier times.

Amidst the turmoil, no explanation has been offered for the ordeal or its underlying motives. To this day, the charges against them remain shrouded in mystery. What’s clear is their passports were seized, and they’ve remained captive in this undisclosed location. Meetings with embassy officials have been tightly controlled by Nigerian authorities, their communications under constant surveillance. The 14-day detention period, authorized by the Nigerian court on the 28th of February lapsed last March 12th. Yet, they remain detained, with their court hearing indefinitely postponed.

Amidst the ordeal, Nadeem fell ill with symptoms mirroring malaria during their two-week confinement. Rushed to the Federal Medical Centre for treatment, he returned to the guest house hours later. While his health slowly improves, the grip on his freedom remains unyielding.

Families’ rallying cries

In an interview with WIRED, a Binance representative expressed confidence in the imminent release of the two men: “They are professionals with the highest integrity and we will provide them all the support we can. We trust there will be a swift resolution to this matter.”

Their wives, however, are slowly losing faith.

“A small part of me chips away every day without Tigran by my side. He is the love of my life and I cannot imagine a life without him. I plead with the Nigerian authorities from the depths of my heart to release Tigran and Nadeem. I pray that as Tigran is an American citizen, our government is doing everything in its power to get him home safe,” shared Yuki Gambaryan.

Their detention conditions remain unclear, but reports suggest they have access to television and a balcony. However, Yuki reveals that her husband described his experience as a relentless cycle, akin to “Groundhog Day,” where the promise of spring never materializes. Despite his outward optimism, a growing impatience lurks beneath, leading to a sense of despair. The couple’s two young children are left in the dark, asking about their father daily with no satisfying answers. The youngest rushes to the window at the sound of every passing car, hoping for his father’s return. Meanwhile, Tigran’s elderly mother is overwhelmed with sorrow, shedding tears for the safe return of her only son. It’s a heart-wrenching situation, leaving their family feeling powerless, with nothing to do but pray.

Meanwhile, Nadeem Anjarwalla is missing out on precious moments with his wife Elahe and their infant son. Elahe revealed in a statement that their baby recently sprouted his first tooth, yet Nadeem wasn’t there to share in such joy. Her heartfelt words portray Nadeem as a devoted husband, father, and unwavering support for the entire family.

“He is the glue in our wider family. When he meets new people he asks everyone their name, no matter their age or role, and makes a real effort to get to know them. Next week is our son’s first birthday. He has started whispering ‘Papa’ and has had his first tooth appear in these 2 weeks since Nadeem was detained. Nadeem is devastated to have already missed these two beautiful milestones and I hope our son’s first birthday is not added to that list.”

As Ramadan commenced on March 11th, Nadeem, a devout Muslim, found himself in detention. This season, once his favorite, was typically filled with the joy of breaking fasts with friends and family. Now, alongside fellow detainee Tigran, he observes Ramadan in shared solidarity, reminiscing the daily gatherings he once cherished.

Two families have been shattered by unjustified suffering. And what makes it even harder is not knowing why this is happening or when it will end.

Save Tigran and Nadeem

No matter what the Nigerian government seeks, unjustly detaining these innocent men won’t lead to a solution. Throughout their careers, both have tirelessly championed transparency and ethics. Yuki, Tigran’s wife, stressed that his commitment to law enforcement has made cryptocurrencies safer. Tigran’s contributions speak for themselves. It’s only fitting that the US government, the first to acknowledge his work, should now take swift action to secure his freedom. Nadeem, in the same vein, lacks any authority in decision-making at Binance. As a mid-level employee, he recently took on government affairs duties in West Africa. There’s simply no logical rationale for his confinement.

As they anxiously await a new court hearing, both Yuki Gambaryan and Elahe Anjarwalla are pleading with the US and UK governments to ramp up efforts to bring their loved ones home. At present, it’s unclear what steps the respective embassies in Abuja have taken to resolve the situation. Yet, judging from both men still being detained without charge, we might venture to say: not enough.

Editor’s note: I have known Tigran for several years now. He was not only an outstanding investigator, he has always been a man of his word, trustworthy, honest and with a heart in the right place. I hope he returns home soon.

2 thoughts on “Cybercrime Fighting Heroes Held Hostage In Nigeria; Free Tigran and Nadeem”
  1. Moral of this story, mind your business, Don’t bite more than you can shew. why did he not go to Kenya, US or UK to do the same instead of Nigerian, A country that lives on crime, how brave. Guess he wasn’t that smart.

    You can’t just go to another country to be an investigator, thats the most dangerous thing. Who knows if he was sent to spy? who knows if he was stealing information? So let him explain himself in court and learn from this. He will be freed.

    1. He was doing his job. The moral of the story should be that states sponsored thuggery isn’t acceptable.

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