Court drops Binance executive from tax evasion charges, proceeds against crypto company


The Federal High Court in Abuja has dropped the executive of Binance Holdings Limited, Tigran Gambaryan, from the alleged tax evasion charge preferred against the company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
The judge, Emeka Nwite, discharged and struck out Mr Gambaryan’s name from the four counts after FIRS’ counsel, Moses Ideho, filed fresh amended charges naming Binance as the sole defendant.
However, Mr Gambaryan will continue facing the money laundering charges in a separate trial before the same judge.

Mr Gambaryan was present at Friday’s proceedings. He stepped into the dock when the case was called for a hearing.

Company appoints new representative
Then, Tonye Krukrubo, a SAN, who appeared for Binance (1st defendant), informed the court that the cryptocurrency firm had just appointed a representative in Nigeria.

The new appointee, also in court, stood up and announced his name as Ayodele Omotilewa.
Mr Ideho confirmed that his office received a notice of appointment of a representative by Binance.

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He said the notice was dated 13 June, appointing Ayodele Omotilewa as its agent in the country.
The FIRS lawyer told the court that against the development, an amended four-count charge listing Binance Holdings Limited as the sole defendant was filed on 13 June.
He, therefore, applied that Mr Omotilewa go to the dock to make a plea on behalf of the company.

Argument over representative moving to dock
But Mr Krukrubo disagreed with Mr Ideho’s application.
The senior lawyer argued that the company’s representative had yet to be served the newly amended charges. He said Mr Omotilewa was only appearing in court for the first time.
He insisted that the prosecution had not served the amended charge on his client.
He said he was only appointed for specific purposes: to receive processes, not to represent the company in the dock.
“He is one of us, a legal practitioner,” he said.
He said the proper thing for the prosecution to do was to address the court on the charge he intended to substitute.
C.J. Caleb, who appeared for Mr Gambaryan (2nd defendant), aligned himself with Krukrubo’s submission.

According to him, Nigeria’s criminal jurisprudence does not contemplate a corporate body or its representative being in the dock.
To back his argument, Mr Caleb cited sections 478, 481, 482 and 483 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
“So I align with my learner colleague that the representative is enough to be in court but does have to be in the dock,” he said.
However, Mr Ideho disagreed, citing Section 481 of ACJA to back his argument.
“If my lord is to look carefully at the provisions of this section and subsection, a representative cannot just sit in the gallery and watch proceedings like a spectator.
“He should be in the dock because this is a criminal charge, not a civil matter,” he said.
Reacting, Mr Krukrubo argued that there was nowhere in section 418 cited by Mr Ideho providing that a company’s representative must be in the dock.
Also speaking, Mr Caleb argued that section 418 of ACJA only talked about the power of a representative.
Mr Nwite then directed Mr Ideho to move the latest application filed.
Charges amendment
Moving his fresh amended charge, Mr Caleb said, “We would like to amend and substitute the charge with the earlier one of 17 May 2024, which was our last amended charge, my lord,” he said.
The defendants’ lawyers did not oppose the application.

However, Mr Caleb applied that the court should strike out the two earlier charges that listed his client, Mr Gambaryan, as the 2nd defendant, dated 22 March and the amended charge dated 17 May.
He said this was so because his client’s name appeared in the two charges.
The lawyer equally applied to the court to discharge Mr Gambaryan from the dock and the proceedings.

He further applied that the earlier order directing that the service of the charge on Binance be done through Mr Gambaryan be vacated, having been in the court record that the company had appointed a representative.
Mr Nwite, in a ruling, granted the prosecution’s application for the substitution of the 13 June amended charges for the one dated 17 May.
He also set aside the earlier order, directing Mr Gambaryan to be served on behalf of the company.
On the controversy of whether the Binance representative should be in the dock, the judge ordered the parties to file written addresses on the dispute.
Mr Nwite adjourned the matter until 12 July for the plea.
Charges
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in the latest amended charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/115/2024, while the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the complainant, Binance Holdings Limited is the sole defendant.
Count one alleged that while carrying out and offering services to subscribers on its platform known as Binance, the company failed to register with the FIRS to pay all relevant taxes administered by the service.
The offence is punishable under section 8 of the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act of 1993 (as Amended).
(NAN)
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