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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian authorities asked in court Thursday for cryptocurrency exchange Binance and two of its executives to be tried for alleged money laundering and tax evasion, the first legal step following weeks of a criminal investigation into the trading platform.

Only Tigran Gambaryan, an American citizen and Binance’s head of financial crime compliance, attended the court hearing as Nadeem Anjarwalla, the company’s regional manager remains at large after fleeing custody in late March.

Nigeria harbors Africa’s largest crypto economy in terms of trade volume with many citizens using crypto to hedge their finances against surging inflation and the declining local currency. Authorities, however, alleged the platform was being used for money laundering and terrorism financing.

In separate charges seen by The Associated Press Thursday at the Federal High Court in the capital, Abuja, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency and the local tax authority accused Binance and the two officials of operating without the required license, unlawfully negotiating foreign exchange rates, tax evasion and concealing the origin of illegal proceeds and revenue of $35.4 million.

Gambaryan was escorted in and out of the court by officials from the anti-corruption agency.

Binance couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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Since Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were arrested on Feb.26, their trial has been shrouded with controversy after they accused authorities of illegally detaining them and seizing their passports.

In addition, local media had reported that the Nigerian government demanded the names of citizens trading on the platform.

The Abuja court on Thursday adjourned the formal commencement of the money laundering trial till April 8 after Mark Mordi, Gambaryan’s lawyer, argued that his client could not represent Binance in the case without the company’s permission, which the public prosecutor disagreed with.

“There is proof that the second defendant (Gambaryan) is a representative of the first defendant in this country (Binance),” Ekene Iheanacho, a lawyer representing Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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