Nigeria has retained its leading position in Google searches for “Bitcoin” despite a crackdown that has led to the closure of major global exchanges. Meanwhile, US lawmakers have criticized the arrest and detention of Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan, calling it “unlawful detention.”

Nigeria’s position is retained

Google Trends data shows that Nigeria has maintained its position as the country with the most Google searches for “Bitcoin”. With a score of 100, it defeated El Salvador, which had a score of 93, while Switzerland finished a distant third with 60.

The West African country has been a haven for digital assets for years. Last year, the country ranked first for P2P exchange volume and second for overall adoption in a survey by Chainalysis. Nigeria has consistently been Africa’s largest digital asset market.

According to Google Trends, “Bitcoin” searches were highest in the southern state of Delta, with the neighboring states of Edo, Anambra and Bayelsa in the top five. This shows a concentration of interest in digital assets in Southern Nigeria. Remarkably, the tech and financial center Lagos and the capital Abuja were not in the top 10.

Continued interest in digital assets

Nigerians’ continued interest in digital assets is in stark contrast to the government’s anti-Bitcoin stance. Despite President Bola Tinubu’s promises to revive the industry through favorable policies, the government has cracked down even more with closures of offshore exchanges and a looming P2P ban.

The fate of the industry could change in the future, as some lawmakers call on the new director of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to promote positive regulations that spur growth and innovation.

Tough approach against Binance

Nigeria’s crackdown on Binance stands out as the most aggressive regulatory measure in recent years. After the exchange was accused of a “sophisticated attack” on the country’s economy, Nigerian authorities arrested two executives who had been invited to defend the exchange’s actions and programs.

While one of them escaped and is reportedly in his home country of Kenya, the other, US citizen Tigran Gambaryan, has been in custody for months. US lawmakers have now joined calls for his release, claiming he is being held hostage by a foreign government.

In a letter to President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 16 members of Congress called on the US government to intervene and secure Gambaryan’s release.

“The charges against Mr. Gambaryan are baseless and constitute a coercive tactic by the Nigerian government to extort his employer, Binance. Following these charges, Mr. Gambaryan qualifies as a ‘U.S. citizen wrongfully detained by a foreign government,’” the letter said.

Gambaryan is charged along with Binance with tax evasion, fraud and facilitating money laundering. However, his legal team and family have maintained that he is being used as a pawn and bargaining tool in the conflict between the global stock exchange and the West African government. In May, CEO Richard Teng alleged that the Nigerian government was demanding a $150 million bribe for Gambaryan’s release.

The US State Department declined to make a commitment to secure Gambaryan’s release, saying in response to media queries that “each case is assessed individually and we continue to monitor the case closely.”

Gambaryan health

In their letter, the lawmakers claimed that Gambaryan’s life was in danger because his health was deteriorating and Nigerian authorities had denied him access to proper medical care.

“Mr Gambaryan’s health and well-being are at risk and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life,” the letter said.

However, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris Malagi, dismissed the allegation, saying Gambaryan was being prosecuted for his alleged crimes. He also dismissed claims that the former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent was in poor health.


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