The Unfolding Binance Situation in Nigeria by Ismail Babalola

First, this escape of the Binance executive is sadly quite embarrassing for Nigeria, and the Government has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate it and ensure that the persons into whose care the escapee was entrusted are punished to the fullest extent of the law.

For this reason, the ONSA statement about the arrest of the responsible persons is most welcome. The promptness of the statement is also a commendable move along the lines of utmost transparency and openness.

What has happened has happened, and lessons must be learnt from it. Things like this happen, even in the best of climes. The former Head of Nissan escaped from Japanese custody, to Lebanon, in 2019, a very high-profile escape that embarrassed the Japanese Government greatly.

Former Governor of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha famously escaped from the UK authorities in 2005, dressed as a woman, and while on a £1.25m bail bond, another equally embarrassing episode for that government. These things happen. The detained Binance executives in Nigeria were rightly held under a form of house arrest, not prison custody.

Looking on the brighter side for Nigeria, this escape does not significantly alter the trajectory of the case against Binance. The second official is still being lawfully held, and most importantly, the Government, through FIRS has formally filed charges of tax evasion.

The case has now fully shifted to the legal arena, and Nigeria will be seeking convictions on the 4-count charge leveled against Binance and the executives.

For me, the most important part of the ONSA statement is this paragraph: “Upon receiving this report, this office took immediate steps, in conjunction with relevant security agencies, MDAs, as well as the international community, to apprehend the suspect. Security agencies are working with Interpol for an international arrest warrant on the suspect.”

All hope is not lost. The Nigerian Government’s custody of the Binance executives is a lawful one, backed by a subsisting Court Order. On top of this, formal tax evasion charges have been filed by the FIRS, as Nigerian tax laws have clearly been violated by Binance. INTERPOL will be involved – and it seems like the escapee has simply complicated his situation, by turning himself into an international fugitive. On top of tax evasion, the escapee has now roped himself into fugitive activity.

So, while the news of the escape has not exactly covered Nigeria in glory – just like Japan and Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn in 2019 – things are looking even worse for Binance and its fugitive executive.

It is also a very good opportunity to see where the international community stands on this matter? Their noise about fighting corruption and building institutions – now is the time to see whether it’s lip service or not? Will they take the side of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, or the side of a cryptocurrency exchange that has a global reputation for violating laws and regulations, and was recently hit with the biggest fine – $4.3 Billion – ever issued by the United States Treasury?

I am watching this – in the words of Fayose – with the keenness of a bat. Nigeria can still come out on top of this setback.

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