11 January 2013

Gambia: Iran Arms Trial Continues On Allegation of Arms Shipment From Iran Via Nigeria to Gambia

Trial in the case of an Iranian, Azim Aghajani charged with unlawful importation of firearms and explosives to Nigeria continued on Thursday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, Nigeria with his Nigerian accomplice, Ali Abbas Usman testifying that he does not know that the container which he was contacted to assist move to Banjul, Gambia was carrying firearms.

This trial relates to allegations that arms imported from Iran but destined for The Gambia were to be transshipped from Lagos to the Gambia. However thirteen containers were intercepted before the transshipment. The prosecution says that the thirteen containers that were purportedly carrying building materials were actually carrying arms.Led in examination by his counsel, Ali Yahuri Usman told the court that his Iranian contact who engaged him for the service informed him that the container was carrying building materials.He narrated how he came in contact with the Iranian contact, having worked as a journalist in the Iranian Broadcasting Service before returning to Nigeria to set up a private business. According to him, the owners of the container sought his help because they informed him that there was no direct shipment from Iran to Gambia and so will be needing a transshipment from Lagos, Nigeria. Usman who told the court that he had no prior knowledge of shipping business or clearing of goods said he discovered that the transshipment of the containers could not be executed when it landed in Lagos except by a registered shipping company."After some efforts to do the transshipment, my friend in Lagos, Mohammed Tukur informed me that it is only a registered clearing agent that can handle the job and that if I could not get anyone, Aghajani should get one. So I called Mr Behimel, the proprietor of Behimel Trading Company, Iran who engaged my services to inform him about the development in the transshipment", he stated.

The trial judge, Okechukwu Okeke thereafter adjourned the matter till tomorrow for continuation of examination.Aghajani and Usman are standing trial on a five count charge of unlawful importation of arms and explosives to Nigeria.Aghajani who had earlier been led in evidence by his counsel, Mr Chris Uche, SAN, told the court that prior to the engagement of his services by Behimen Trading Company in Iran for the shipment of a 13 by 20 feet container, he had never been to Lagos.He said he was engaged to do a transshipment of the container from the Nigerian port to Gambia.He told the court that the first problem he encountered during the transshipment was that in the bill of lading, the name of the consignee and destination of the consignment was vacant.He said since he was disturbed by this discovery, he wrote to Behimen Trading Company in Iran but received no reply.Aghajani told the court that all the while, he was never aware of the content of the container, but had only dealt with the bill of lading in which it was stated that the consignment consisted of building materials."From the content of the bill of lading, I concluded that there was no unlawful item in the container. I was not opportuned to see the content of the consignment until I was apprehended at the Naval Ordinance at Apapa, where the content of the container was revealed to contain arms and explosives. I sincerely never knew of the content of that consignment, neither did I make any representation that the consignment belonged to me", Aghajani testified.He said that before his apprehension, he had employed the services of one Kingsley, to whom he had explained the content of the bill of lading.According to Aghajani, Kingsley had said that he had communicated with the Nigerian custom service, and was now making preparations for the safe transshipment of the consignment.

The two are facing a four- count charge of illegal importation of arms and ammunition comprising bombs, grenades, and rockets among others into Nigeria.

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