EletiofeBinance Executive Gambaryan discharged from tax evasion case

Binance Executive Gambaryan discharged from tax evasion case


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Justice Emeka Nwite, in a ruling, discharged and struck out Gambaryan’s name from the four-count charge after FIRS’ counsel, Moses Ideho, filed a fresh amended charge wherein Binance is listed as the sole defendant.

When the matter was called, Gambaryan stepped into the dock. Tonye Krukrubo, SAN, who appeared for Binance (1st defendant), then informed the court that the cryptocurrency firm had just appointed a representative in Nigeria.

The new appointee, who was also in court, stood up and announced his name as Ayodele Omotilewa. Ideho confirmed that his office received a notice of appointment of a representative by Binance. He said the notice was dated June 13, 2024, 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 sole defendant was filed on June 13. He therefore applied that Omotilewa should be docked to take a plea on behalf of the company.

But Krukrubo disagreed with Ideho’s application. The senior lawyer, who argued that the company’s representative was yet to be served with the fresh amended charge, said Omotilewa was only appearing in court for the first time.

“I think my learner friend should confirm whether he has served him or not first. We are not there yet,” he said.

He insisted that the prosecution had not served them with the amended charge. Krukrubo said Omotilewa ought not to enter the dock. According to him, he was only appointed for specific purposes; to receive processes.

“He is one of us; a legal practitioner,” he added.

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 Gambaryan (2nd defendant), aligned himself with Krukrubo’s submission.

According to him, our jurisprudence for the criminal trial of a corporation as it stands today does not contemplate that a corporation or its representative should be in the dock.

“More importantly, the ACJA (Administration of Criminal Justice) Act, particularly Part 47, did not leave us in doubt on how a trial should proceed in respect of a corporation,” he stated.

Caleb said the Act also specified all that is required for a representative in a criminal trial, citing Sections 478, 481, 482 and 483.

“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 noted.

But 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 like a spectator how the trial is conducted.

“He should be in the dock because this is a criminal charge not civil matter,” he stated.

Reacting, Krukrubo argued that there was nowhere in the section cited by Ideho where it was said that a company’s representative must be in the dock.

“Section 481 is written in black and white and it does not say that a representative of a corporation must be in dock.

“What he is saying is not contemplated by ACJA,” he said.

Also speaking, Caleb argued that Section 418 of ACJA only talked about the power of a representative. Justice Nwite then directed Ideho to move the latest application filed.

Moving his fresh amended charge, Ideho said the application was filed on June 13.

“We will like to amend and substitute the charge with the earlier one of May 17, 2024, which was our last amended charge my lord,” he added.

The defendants’ lawyers did not oppose the application. However, Caleb applied that the court should strike out the two earlier charges that listed his client, Gambaryan, as the 2nd defendant, dated March 22 and the amended charge dated May 17.

He said this was so because the name of his client was mentioned in the two charges. The lawyer equally applied that Gambaryan should be discharged from the dock and the proceedings in its entirety.

He further applied that the earlier order directing that the service of the charge on Binance be done through Gambaryan be vacated, having been in the court record that the company had appointed a representative.

Justice Nwite, in a ruling, granted the prosecution application for the substitution of the June 13 amended charge for the May 17 one. He also set aside the earlier order, directing Gambaryan to be served on behalf of the company.

On the controversy of whether the Binance representative should be docked or not, the judge ordered the parties to file written addresses to state their arguments. Justice Nwite adjourned the matter until July 12 for plea.

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. The charge is dated June 13 and filed June 14.

Count one alleged that while involved in carrying and offering services to subscribers on their platform, known as Binance, 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).

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