Nigeria rejects Binance CEO's bribery claim as 'diversionary tactic'

FILE PHOTO: Richard Teng, head of the Middle East and North Africa for crypto firm Binance speaks during an interview with Reuters in Dubai

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian authorities on Wednesday denied allegations from Binance's CEO of soliciting bribes, saying the claim was a "diversionary tactic" and an "act of blackmail" aimed at undermining ongoing criminal charges against the company.

Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange, and two of its executives face separate trials on charges of tax evasion and laundering more than $35 million, which the company is challenging.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance's head of financial crime compliance, remains in custody while British-Kenyan Nadeem Anjarwalla has fled the country.

CEO Richard Teng in a blog post accused unidentified Nigerian officials of demanding a $150 million cryptocurrency bribe to halt the investigations.

In a statement on Wednesday, Nigeria's Information Ministry spokesperson Rabiu Ibrahim said the claims "lack any iota of substance". He accused Binance of attempting to undermine the country's legal proceedings.

"It is nothing but a diversionary tactic and an attempted act of blackmail by a company desperate to obfuscate the grievous criminal charges it is facing in Nigeria," Ibrahim said.

"The facts of this matter remain that Binance is being investigated in Nigeria for allowing its platform to be used for money laundering, terrorism financing, and foreign exchange manipulation through illegal trading," he said.

Nigerian authorities claim the bribery allegations are part of a wider campaign by Binance to discredit investigations against the company, citing similar legal troubles in the United States.

Binance did not immediately comment, but in a statement on Tuesday accused Nigeria of setting a dangerous precedent after its executives were invited for talks and then detained as part of a crackdown on the crypto industry.

Teng's blog is the latest in a dispute that has already seen Binance close in Nigeria.

Nigeria blamed Binance for its currency problems after cryptocurrency websites emerged as platforms of choice for trading the Nigerian naira as the country grappled with chronic dollar shortages.

Binance said in early March it was stopping all transactions and trading in naira.

(Writing by Elisha Bala-Gbogbo; Editing by Mark Potter)