Suspected Iranian Arms Dealer on Trial in Nigeria
Scott Stearns | Dakar February 17, 2011
A suspected Iranian arms dealer is on trial in Nigeria for a shipment of weapons that his attorney says were bound for Gambia. Security is tight in the Lagos courtroom where state prosecutors are pursuing charges of importing prohibited firearms against Nigerian Ali Abbas Jega and Iranian national Azim Adhajani, who Nigeria's secret service says is a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Adjhajani's attorneys say he is a businessman who was chosen to accompany the shipment because he speaks English.
The men are on trial in connection with a shipment of mortars, grenades, rockets and anti-aircraft ammunition that was seized last October at Nigeria's main Apapa Port. The weapons were in 13 containers shipped from the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas that were falsely marked as construction equipment.
Nigeria reported Iran to the United Nations Security Council for the shipment, because it appears to breach sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear program.
Iran's ambassador to Nigeria, Hussein Abdullahi, says the weapons were bound for Gambia, as part of a larger arms deal between the two nations. Nigerian prosecutors are presenting into evidence documents that show the recipient of the shipment as Kanilai Farms, which is part of a business group owned by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
President Jammeh's government denies any involvement in the shipment and has severed diplomatic relations with Iran.
Defense attorney Chris Uche says his clients are not guilty of the illegal importation charges because the weapons were never meant for Nigeria.
"There is no connection whatsoever with Nigeria in respect of this consignment. The Bill of Landing which they have produced shows clearly that the destination is the Gambia and in the course of the trial we are going to produce documents to show that this was a normal business transaction between two sovereign countries, namely Iran and Gambia," Uche said."And, it is just a question of trans-shipment, so we are very happy the trial has begun in this matter."
The arms shipment is also a diplomatic issue for the Senegalese government, which recalled its ambassador to Iran because of concerns that weapons bound for Gambia could end up in the hands of separatists rebels in Senegal's southern Casamance region.
President Abdoulaye Wade's government last month reinstated its ambassador, saying it is satisfied with Iran's explanation of the arms shipment.
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