DOMINIC OKAFOR: Binance bribery claim and mind games

Abdullahi A BalogunJune 19, 20247 min
Rep. Dominic

“I never knew anything about such transactions. Rather I moved a motion of national importance, something I feel because of my interest in the country Nigeria and not for any personal interest.” – Rep. Okafor

Okafor and Binance chief exec
Rep. Dominic Okafor and Binance CEO

The above words are excerpts from the statement made by Rep. Dominic Okafor after he was purported to have demanded a 140 million dollars bribe from Binance executives in the ongoing investigation of the cryptocurrency trading platform.

The bribe claim…

Okafor, who is the member representing Aguata federal constituency of Anambra in the 10th National Assembly, was alleged to have demanded the amount to quiet down the ongoing prosecution of the company on charges of tax evasion, currency speculation and money laundering by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  This claim of bribe demand was corroborated by Binance CEO, Richard Teng, on the company’s website and was also published in the New York Times.

Okafor before politics…

Before his foray into politics, Okafor, who is the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on delegated legislation, was a businessman who reportedly dealt in oil and gas, communication, and finance amongst others with offices located in Nigeria and abroad. He is said to be a member of several professional, vocational and humanitarian organizations, including Rotary Club; the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE); American Society of Mechanical Engineers; Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), amongst others. 

Rep. Dominic

A controversial motion…

Given his supposed background, not a few would be surprised at the thud of mud being hurled at Okafor by Binance. The 140million bribery allegation was being levelled against the lawmaker barely 24 hours after he sponsored a motion on the floor of the House of Representatives, demanding a probe on the circumstances that led to the escape of Mr. Nadeem Anjarwalla, the Binance regional manager for Africa.

It will be recalled that the Federal Government of Nigeria in its bid to strengthen the national currency (the naira), bolster the nation’s economy and attract overseas investment, has been at loggerheads with Binance over claims that the crypto company facilitates illegal transactions via its platform thereby enabling tax evasion and money laundering. In the words of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Olayemi Cardoso, “we are concerned that certain practices go on that indicate illicit flows going through a number of these entities [crypto platforms] and suspicious flows at best.

“In the case of Binance, in the last one year alone, $26bn has passed through Binance Nigeria from sources and users who we cannot adequately identify.” These allegations culminated into the arrest of Binance company’s head of compliance, Tigran Gambaryan, and its regional manager for Africa, Nadeem Anjarwalla, after the duo flew to Nigeria to defend the company’s conduct in the country.

Stiff denial…

Rep. Okafor has since come out to deny the bribe allegation and even threatened to take legal actions against the media outlet that published the story. While addressing journalists at the House of Representatives on Friday, May 10, 2024, he said “Shortly after I moved that motion, which was well received and a lot of people were calling to commend me, I started getting calls from my friends all over the world saying I collected bribes from this very company. I got worried and wrote a letter to Premium Times, the media company that originated the story.

“I wrote a letter to them which I copied the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Clerk, Inspector General of Police, EFCC and DSS. I asked them to retrieve the information within 24 hours, if not I will take legal action against them.”

It is instructive that the House led by Speaker Abbas Tajudeen has also denied the allegation and resolved to launch another probe into the escape of Mr. Anjarwalla from custody in Nigeria. In a similar reaction, the House Committee on Financial Crimes, through its chairman, Rep. Ginger Onwusibe, described the media publication as untrue. He however admitted that three members of the committee met with the Binance executives on the issue between the company and the federal government.

Federal government dismisses claims…

Meanwhile, the federal government responded to the allegation describing it as a ‘diversionary tactic’. In a statement signed by his special assistant, the minister of information and national orientation, Mohammed Idris, said Binance cannot clear its name by sponsoring a media campaign against the country. Whether the authorities choose to investigate the allegation further remains to be seen as the government now has to attend to the ‘hostage claim’ by US lawmakers who accused the federal government of Nigeria of unlawfully detaining Mr. Gambaryan, an American citizen. A few days ago, the government amended the charges against the Binance executive by dismissing the tax evasion charges filed by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

What next for Okafor’s soiled name?

While there haven’t been much developments on this controversy, it is noteworthy to mention that this isn’t the first time that a federal lawmaker has been accused of demanding a bribe. Perhaps the most prominent one would be that of the case of ex-lawmaker, Farouk Lawan, who was recently sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in January 2024 for receiving a $500,000 bribe in 2012 during a legislative probe into the fuel subsidy regime. Okafor sure has every reason to clear his name or have his reputation blighted by the binance bribery claim. Except if he is just playing mind games by threatening court action against the media.

Abdullahi A Balogun

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