Illegal Importation Of Arms: Accused Re-Arraigned

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The Pakistani national Azim Aghani and his Nigerian collaborator Ali Abbas Usman Jega standing trial before a Federal High Court for allegedly importing ammunition into Nigeria were this afternoon re-arraigned before the court.

The two accused, who were facing a two-count charge of conspiracy and importing arms into Nigeria, were also arraigned for the criminal offence of having under their control bombs and grenade categorised as prohibited firearms without authorised licensed, thereby committed an offence contrary to item four of part 1 of the schedule to the firearms Acts Cap. F28 laws of Federation 2004 and also Section 3 of the Nigerian Constitution.

Like their earlier plea, the accused persons pleaded not guilty. Thereafter, there was controversy between the counsel of the accused persons, Chief Chris Uche (SAN) and the prosecutor, Mrs. Olufemi Fatunde as to where to keep the accused persons.

The counsel to the accused persons urged the court to remand them in prison custody while the prosecutor wanted them to be kept in the custody of State Security Service.

The presiding judge, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, while adjourning the matter for the continuation of trial of the accused persons till tomorrow, ordered that they should be remanded in prison custody.

Nigerian intelligence officials and diplomats had on 11 November 2010 concluded that the Iranian government was behind a secret shipment of weapons discovered on 26 October in shipping containers, according to internal documents seen on Thursday 11 November 2010 by The Associated Press.

Immediately after the arms seizure, Israeli officials accused Iran of trying to sneak the shipment into the Gaza Strip, but Nigeria’s security service now believes the arms were imported by some local politicians to destabilise Nigeria if they lose in the coming general elections.

The cargo that was shipped from an Iranian port was listed as building materials but when the 13 containers were opened at Nigeria’s main port in Lagos, inspectors found 107mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and arms.

Nigerian investigators who followed a paper trail learned that Iran’s foreign ministry endorsed a Nigerian visa application for one of the two Iranians who allegedly shipped the weapons, saying he would work at the Iranian Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The Nigerian government reports, seen by an AP reporter, identify Iranians Azimi Agajany and Sayed Akbar Tahmaesebi as the men who organised the shipment through a Tehran-based company called International Trading and General Construction. Nigerian officials suspect the two men hid inside the Iranian Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The reports say Agajany received a visa to travel to Nigeria after getting an endorsement from Sheikh Ali Abbas Othman, also known as Abbas Jega, a Nigerian who worked for Radio Tehran’s Hausa language service and studied in Iran. Jega was later arrested by Nigeria’s State Security Service.

Tahmaesebi received his visa after Nigerian authorities received a letter of recommendation from Iran’s foreign ministry that said he would “provide administrative support” at its Abuja embassy, the reports say.

CMA CGM, an international cargo shipper based in France, said one of its cargo ships picked up the shipping containers from Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran. The company said the shipment, which stopped in Mumbai’s port before heading to Lagos, had been labeled as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”

The containers sat at Lagos’ busy Apapa port from July until October 26, when Nigerian security agents carried out a raid and discovered the weapons inside.

AP journalists who went to the port after the raid saw 107mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other items labeled in English. The rockets can accurately hit targets more than 5 miles (8.5 kilometers) away with a 40-foot (12-meter) killing radius. Insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq have used similar rockets against U.S. troops. China, the United States, and Russia manufacture versions of the rocket, as does Iran.

Immediately after the arms seizure, Israeli officials accused Iran of trying to sneak the shipment into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Nigerian officials instead believe the weapons were to remain in their country to be used by politicians in this year’s elections.

By Akin Kuponiyi