Lawmakers in the United States have accused the Nigerian government of taking Tigran Gambaryan, the Binance executive, “hostage”. 

In a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday, the lawmakers in a letter dated June 4, urged President Joe Biden to help secure his release.

The report said Michael McCaul, chairman of the house foreign affairs committee and fifteen republican congressmen, wrote to Biden to have the case of Gambaryan referred to the office of the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

Gambaryan, a US citizen, is the head of financial crime compliance at Binance and has been held in Nigeria since February.

The executive and Binance are standing trial over money laundering allegations.

On May 17, a federal high court in Nigeria’s capital city refused to grant bail to Gambaryan, stating that he may likely “jump bail if granted to him”.

The bail refusal came two months after Nadeem Anjarwalla, the Binance regional manager for Africa, escaped from the custody of the office of the national security adviser (ONSA) in Nigeria.

Anjarwalla was said to have escaped after guards on duty led him to a nearby mosque for prayers during the Ramadan period.

“The charges against Mr. Gambaryan are baseless and constitute a coercion tactic by the Nigerian government to extort his employer, Binance,” the lawmakers said in the letter cited by Bloomberg.

“Following these charges, Mr. Gambaryan qualifies as a ‘U.S. Citizen wrongfully detained by a foreign government. 

“After two rounds of meetings, which were described as starting professional and then becoming increasingly hostile, the government of Nigeria took Mr. Gambaryan hostage. 

“Mr. Gambaryan’s health and well-being are in danger, and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life.” 

According to the publication, the letter was also addressed to Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, and Roger Carstens, a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

Responding to the hostage allegation in a call with Bloomberg, Muhammed Idris, Nigeria’s minister of information, rejected the allegation that Gambaryan had been wrongfully detained.

“Nobody is being kept outside our laws and nobody’s life is in danger. They have committed a crime,” Idris said.

“We’re a responsible country and we have to ensure that everybody that is being investigated or is being tried under our laws is healthy enough to answer our questions.” 

In April, Gambaryan was held at a guest house before formal charges were brought against him and Binance in an Abuja court.

He is accused alongside the crypto company of charges including non-payment of value-added tax and corporate income tax, and complicity in aiding customers to evade taxes through its platform.

The executive is being held in the Kuje correctional centre.

On May 23 when the Binance executive last appeared in court, the hearing was adjourned until June 20 after his lawyer said he was too ill to proceed.