20 November 2012

Nigeria: Arms Import - Court Rejects Document Tendered By Iranian

A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday rejected a contract document tendered in evidence by an Iranian and his Nigerian accomplice charged with unlawful importation of firearms

The accused, Azim Aghajani (Iranian), and Ali Jega (Nigerian), are standing trial on a five-count charge of unlawful importation of firearms and explosives into Nigeria.

Ruling against admissibility of the document, Justice Okechukwu Okeke said it was not relevant as the agreement was between two companies in Iran and Gambia, and not between the governments of the two nations.

"The document sought to be tendered by defence counsel, represents an agreement made between two companies existing in Iran and Gambia, on arms deal for the military.

It is my view that these document is not relevant to this case and so, it is hereby dismissed" Okeke ruled.

The defence counsel, Mr Chris Uche, had sought to tender the document as proof of an alleged contract between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Gambia.

At the resumed hearing, Uche opened the case of the defence by leading Mr Bavharan Mohsen, an official of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in evidence.

The witness had told the court that the importation of the firearms was reached by an agreement between two sovereign nations, Iran and Gambia and was evidence by an agreement to that effect.

He said the arms were meant to be transported to the Gambia government for use by its military.

According to him, it was only shipped through Nigeria as a transit point, since there is no direct vessel from Iran to Gambia.

"It is very rare to find a ship in the ports in Iran going directly to Gambia. Therefore, you will need a port of transit between Iran and Gambia," he said.

Mohsen, who admitted that the content of the container was concealed in their bill of lading, told the court that this was done to prevent the consignment being looted by pirates or terrorists at sea.

Objecting to the admissibility of the document, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) (Federal), Mrs Fumilayo Fatunde, argued that the alleged contract document between the two nations did not bear the signature and seal of either nations.

She said counsel for the defence had only sought to tender the document, which served as a mere presumption, that such agreement existed between the two countries.

"Although a letter of authorisation allows a witness to testify on behalf of a country before the court on certain documents, but not this type of document. Under section 149 of the Evidence Act, presumption does not come into play unless and until parties ratify that this document would be admissible in their country of origin without proof of seal and signature authenticating it," she said.

Okeke, therefore, adjourned the case to Nov. 23 for continuation of trial.

It would be recalled that the accused were arraigned on March 7, 2011, before the court on a five count charge of unlawful importation of firearms and ammunitions into Nigeria.


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