25 February 2013

Nigeria: How Lagos Judge Granted Bail to 15 Russians Accused of Arms Smuggling

Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN

The 15 Russians accused of unlawful importation of arms into Nigeria were, Monday, granted bail.

A Federal High Court in Lagos handed over the defendants to the Russian Ambassador in Nigeria, who is expected to make them available on April 10, the day for hearing of the suit.

The Russians are facing a four-count of unlawful importation and possession of firearms; as well non declaration of the contents of their vessel.

The suspects include Zhelyazkov Andrey, Savchenko Sergel, Chichkanov Vasily, Varlygin Igor, Komilov Alexander, Lopatin Alexey and Baranovskly Nikolay.

Others are Mishin Pavel, Llia Shubov, Dimitry Bannyrh, Alexander Tsarikov, Kononov Sergel, Korotchenko Andrey, Vorobev Mikhail, and Stepan Oleksiuk.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Okechukwu Okeke, the trial judge, also granted bail to the vessel "MV Myre Seadiver" in a bond of US$500,000 to be obtained from First Bank Plc.

The Russians and their vessel, concealing caches of firearms and ammunitions, were arrested by naval officers on October 18, 2012, within the Nigerian territorial waters, in Lagos State, according to Ernest Ezebilo, the prosecution counsel.

Mr. Ezebilo said that despite the vessel entering the Nigerian territorial waters without due licence and clearance from the Nigerian Custom Service; the Russians refused to declare its contents contrary to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2002.

While urging the court to grant his clients bail, Chukwuwike Okafor, counsel to the defendants, assured the court of their readiness to "continuously" attend trial.

After the judge sought his opinion on the defendants' bail conditions, Mr. Ezebilo suggested that the accused be released, on bail, to the Russian Ambassador in Nigeria, who will undertake to produce them during trial.

Mr. Okeke adjourned till April 10 for hearing.

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