• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Court adjourns Binance money laundering case to April 8

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The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has adjourned the money laundering case against Binance until April 8.

The suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will now be heard on the new date.

The court also adjourned until April 19 the tax evasion case against Binance and its two executives, who were arrested in the country over alleged tax evasion.

Both matters were adjourned because the EFCC and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), failed to serve Binance before arraignment.

Binance Holdings Limited, Tigran Gambaryan, and Nadeem Anjarwalla are listed as the first, second and third defendants.

Justice Emeka Nwite on Thursday adjourned the case to rule on whether the arraignment would proceed without proof of service. During the scheduled arraignment, EFCC operatives brought Gambaryan before the court, while Anjarwalla, who fled Nigeria, was arraigned in absentia.

In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CR/115/2024, which was the first matter called by the court, Gambaryan’s lawyer, Chukwuka Ikwazuonu, told the court that his client was not aware of the charges against him. He argued that his client could not be arraigned because he had not received the charges from the FIRS.

In the charge, Binance was accused of failing to register with the FIRS to pay all relevant taxes administered by the service.

Moses Ideho, counsel to the FIRS, acknowledged that the prosecutor had been unable to serve Gambaryan with the charges. He noted that serving the second defendant is difficult because he has been in the custody of the EFCC.

He then requested permission to serve the defendant in court. Counsels to the defendant and prosecutor sought an adjournment to allow Gambaryan time for more consultation on the charges.

After hearing arguments from both parties, Justice Nwite adjourned the arraignment to April 19 so Gambaryan could enter his plea in the FIRS case.

The court then called up the EFFC case. Mark Mordi, counsel to Gambaryan, told the court that the prosecution could not serve Binance Holdings Limited with a copy of the charges.

He criticised the move by the EFCC to serve his client on behalf of Binance Holdings, listed as the first defendant. Mordi argued that his client was neither an authorised representative of the company in the country and could not be served on behalf of the first defendant.

He insisted that the absence of serve means the defendant cannot be arraigned as scheduled, as the court must follow due process.

In his argument, Ekele Iheanacho, counsel to the EFCC, urged the court to enter a plea of not guilty and proceed with trial instead.

Iheanacho faulted Gambaryan’s refusal to be served the charges on behalf of the first defendant. He argued that the second defendant is the only agent in Nigeria representing the company, noting that Binance has no physical presence.

He said, “There is no need to embark on a wide goose chase for someone with no physical presence in Nigeria,” while urging the court to enter a not guilty plea for the first defendant.

Justice Nwite adjourned the matter for ruling on April 8 after listening to both parties. On March 28, the anti-graft agency officially filed charges, alleging that the trio allegedly laundered $35,400,000.

The five-count charge alleged that the company operated without a valid license, violating the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2020.

The FIRS filed a separate four-count charge against Binance. This charge accused the company of failing to register for and pay taxes in Nigeria. The alleged offences occurred between February 1, 2024, and the filing date of March 22, 2024.

The judge, Emeka Nwite, had previously ordered Binance to provide the EFCC with comprehensive data on all Nigerian users on their platform. This order stems from concerns that the platform may be facilitating money laundering and terrorism financing.