Economy

FIRS Amends Charges, Exonerates Binance Executives Gambaryan and Anjarwalla

The Federal High Court on Friday exonerated Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) tax evasion case against the cryptocurrency exchange platform, Binance.

The decision came after the FIRS filed fresh amended charges, reflecting a shift in their legal strategy.

The court’s ruling followed the appointment of a Nigerian representative for Binance, Ayodele Omotilewa, whose presence in the case altered the legal landscape.

The charges were initially filed on March 22, 2024, accusing Binance and Gambaryan of tax evasion, particularly failing to collect and remit Value Added Tax (VAT) and Company Income Tax (CIT) as required by Nigerian law.

During the proceedings, counsel for Binance, Tonye Krukrubo SAN, informed Justice Emeka Nwite that Binance had officially notified the FIRS and the court of Omotilewa’s appointment as their Nigerian representative.

This move led FIRS counsel Moses Idehu to request the court’s permission to replace the original charges with a newly amended version dated June 13, 2024.

The fresh charges now list Binance as the sole defendant, effectively removing Gambaryan and Anjarwalla from the case.

The charges allege that Binance offered cryptocurrency trading services to Nigerians without remitting the necessary taxes from its operations, specifically citing the non-deduction of VAT.

“That you, BINANCE HOLDINGS LTD, on or about the 1st February 2024, in Abuja, FCT, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, whilst involved in the offering of services to subscribers on your trading platform, known as Binance, did aid and abet those subscribers on your trading platform to unlawfully refuse to pay taxes, or neglect to pay those taxes and in so doing committed an offence contrary to and punishable under the provisions of S.94 of the Companies Income Tax Act (as amended),” one of the charges reads.

The court session highlighted a legal debate over whether Binance’s Nigerian representative should physically enter the dock to take a plea on behalf of the corporation.

Krukrubo argued that Nigerian law does not mandate a company representative to stand in the dock, while Idehu urged the court to require it.

Justice Nwite directed both parties to file written arguments on this issue for a future ruling.

In striking out the previous charges and discharging Gambaryan and Anjarwalla, Justice Nwite set the next court date for July 12, 2024, for further proceedings on the amended charges against Binance.

This development marks a crucial turning point in the ongoing legal battle between Binance and Nigerian authorities.

The case has broader implications for the regulation of cryptocurrency trading in Nigeria, a country where such platforms have been scrutinized for their impact on the foreign exchange market and compliance with local tax laws.

Background tensions have been high since Nigerian authorities detained Gambaryan and Anjarwalla earlier this year.

The Federal Government has accused cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance of influencing foreign exchange rates, leading to stricter oversight and legal actions.

Despite these challenges, Binance remains a significant player in Nigeria’s cryptocurrency market, with a reported turnover of over $20 billion in 2023.

The outcome of this case could set important precedents for the taxation and regulation of digital asset platforms in Nigeria and beyond.

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