Republican congressman leads charge on return of Binance exec detained in Nigeria

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Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill is leading the charge in an ongoing effort by members of Congress to persuade the Biden administration to secure the release of an American crypto executive they say is being wrongfully detained in Nigeria, FOX Business has learned.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and former IRS agent, has been imprisoned for nearly four months in a Nigerian jail on what Hill calls “trumped-up” charges including money laundering and tax evasion. Gambaryan flew to Nigeria in February for a meeting with government officials on behalf of his employer, Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, where he serves as a compliance officer.

Hill, the vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says he plans to call Roger Carstens, the State Department’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, in the coming days to seek his advice on Gambaryan’s case. Carstens intervened on behalf of the Biden administration for WNBA player Brittney Griner when she was detained in Russia for possession of hash oil in 2022.

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Hill says he also plans to consult with Gambaryan’s lawyers and family, as well as fellow Rep. Rich McCormick, who represents the 6th congressional district in Gambaryan’s home state of Georgia.

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“Tigran is a pawn in a Nigerian political fight,” Hill told FOX Business. “He needs to be brought home to America where he belongs and Binance can deal with the Nigerians.”

Nigeria’s problem with Binance, and Gambaryan by extension, stems from the economic crisis it’s experiencing, due in part to massive inflation that has devalued its native currency, the naira. The Nigerian government blames Binance for undermining the naira by allowing Nigerians to buy so-called stablecoins, a kind of cryptocurrency that’s backed by the U.S. dollar, on its platform.

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Although the tax evasion charges against Gambaryan were dropped earlier this month, he remains charged with money laundering by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Hill’s latest push comes on the heels of a visit he made to Gambaryan at Kuje prison near the Nigerian capital of Abuja last week with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

Hill describes Gambaryan as “frail, fragile, emotionally drained and very weak,” and said Gambaryan expressed concern that he had lost significant weight and was not receiving adequate medical care.

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FOX Business previously reported that Gambaryan had contracted malaria, a mosquito-born illness, while in prison. According to Hill and Houlahan, he has now also contracted double pneumonia, a bacterial infection of the lungs.

Reports of Gambaryan’s worsening health have sparked a coordinated pressure campaign from lawmakers and other government officials for the Biden administration to address Gambaryan’s situation.

Hill was one of 16 members of Congress to pen a letter to the White House and the State Department earlier this month urging them to take action to get Gambaryan back to the U.S. A second letter, appealing directly to Secretary of State Antony Blinken was sent days later from more than 100 former Justice Department prosecutors and federal agents, some of whom had previously worked with Gambaryan.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the State Department told FOX Business earlier this month that it’s in regular communication with Gambaryan, his family and his lawyers and is providing all “appropriate assistance.”

Gambaryan’s family tells a different story. A spokesperson for the family clarified that Gambaryan’s only contact with American government officials was when U.S. Embassy staff visited him in prison, but not from anyone else at the State Department.

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“There must be a way to end this nightmare in a cordial manner,” Gambaryan’s wife, Yuki, said in a statement to FOX Business. “I believe that with the right intervention from the U.S. government, a swift resolution can be achieved for all parties involved.”

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Meanwhile, lawmakers are further concerned about a possible precedent Nigeria’s detainment of Gambaryan, and the silence from the White House, could set.

“This idea that if a government has a problem with a business, they can just round up their employees and detain them is not one that should be encouraged,” former Republican Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV, who has been closely following Gambaryan’s case, told FOX Business. “It could potentially put a chilling effect on commerce internationally.”

Gambaryan’s employer, Binance, did not respond to a request for comment.

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