Digital coin with cracked Nigeria flag

Nigeria remains global leader in ‘Bitcoin’ Google searches amid government crackdown

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Nigeria has maintained its lead in Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) searches for “Bitcoin” despite a crackdown that has led to the shutdown of leading global exchanges. Meanwhile, United States lawmakers have criticized the arrest and detention of Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan, describing it as “wrongful detention.”

Nigerians top ‘Bitcoin’ searches

Nigeria retained its position as the country with the highest Google searches for “Bitcoin,” data from Google Trends shows. At a score of 100, it edged out El Salvador at 93, with Switzerland trailing at a distant third with 60.

The West African country has been a digital asset haven for years. It ranked first for P2P exchange trading volume last year and second for overall adoption in a Chainalysis study and has consistently been Africa’s largest digital asset market.

According to Google Trends, “Bitcoin” searches were highest in the southern state of Delta, with its neighboring Edo, Anambra and Bayelsa states in the top five. This shows a concentration of digital asset interest in Southern Nigeria. Curiously, the tech and financial centre of Lagos and the capital of Abuja didn’t rank in the top ten.

Nigerians’ continued interest in digital assets starkly contrasts the government’s anti-Bitcoin stance. Despite President Bola Tinubu’s pledges to revive the industry through favorable policies, the government has clamped down even harder with shutdowns of offshore exchanges and a looming P2P ban.

The industry’s fate could change in the future, with some legislators calling on the new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) head to steer the country toward positive regulations that foster growth and innovation.

US legislators: Nigeria has taken Binance exec hostage

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

While one escaped and is reported to be in his home country of Kenya, the other—U.S. citizen Tigran Gambaryan—has been in detention for months. Now, U.S. legislators have joined calls for his release, alleging that he is being held hostage by a foreign government.

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

“The charges against Mr Gambaryan are baseless and constitute a coercion 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 alongside Binance with tax evasion, fraud and facilitating money laundering. However, his legal team and his family have maintained that he’s being used as a pawn and a bargaining chip in the conflict between the global exchange and the West African government. In May, CEO Richard Teng alleged that the Nigerian government demanded a $150 million bribe for Gambaryan’s release.

The U.S. State Department declined to make a commitment to securing Gambaryan’s release, issuing its template “each case is assessed individually, and we’ll continue to monitor the case closely” response to media inquiries.

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

“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,” the letter said.

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

Watch: BSV Stories Episode 10—The future has already arrived in Nigeria

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