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Arms shipment: Iranian suspect discharged by court

The on-going trial of an Iranian, Azim Aghajani, who was accused of berthing 13 containers laden with assorted explosives at the Apapa Sea Port on October 25, 2010, yesterday, took a new dimension, as the State Security Services, SSS, not only terminated the criminal proceedings earlier initiated against him and three others before an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court, but equally re-arrested him over fresh charges.

Azim Aghajan 

The Iranian was re-arrested on a day he was discharged by the trial Magistrate court following a discontinuance application filed by counsel to the security agency, Mr Moses Idakwo, who told the court that he was ordered by the Attorney General of the federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke,  to withdraw the charge forthwith.

He informed the lower court that the AGF decided to exercise his powers of nolle-prosequi to terminate the on-going trial before it, just as he disclosed that the Federal Government has concluded plans to arraign the embattled Iranian as well as the 2nd accused person in the matter, Ali Usman Abbas Jega, before a Federal High Court in Lagos, over a fresh two-count criminal charge.

The prosecuting counsel maintained that the federal government took the decision in order to grant the trial court an unfettered access to the location where the 13 deadly containers which he said was capable of sinking the entire country within 3 hours, were kept, contending that since the government intends to present it as the primary exhibit against the accused persons, that it would be more reasonable to transfer the case to a court within that jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, two of the accused persons in the matter, Aliyu Wamako and Mohammed Tukur Umar, yesterday regained their freedom after the SSS expunged their names from the fresh charge sheet.

Though the agency maintained that preliminary investigations conducted into the matter failed to disclose a prima-facie nexus linking two of them to the alleged crime, indications emerged yesterday that they may be called before the high court to testify against the remaining accused persons.

Despite spirited efforts by counsel to the embattled Iranian, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, and that of the 2nd accused, Aliyu M Yawuri, to persuade presiding Magistrate Hafsat Soso, to ignore the discontinuance application and continue hearing the substantive suit as scheduled ab-initio, she refused, even as she also declined to make an order restraining the SSS from further arresting any of the accused persons pending when the higher court finally assume jurisdiction of the case.

Consequently, after acknowledging that the AGF has the power to terminate state trial at any stage, Magistrate Soso went ahead and struck-out the FIR and also discharged all the accused persons from the case.

Barely 10 minutes after they were discharged by the Magistrate court yesterday, the Iranian and his co-accused person were re-arrested and whisked away by heavily armed operatives of the SSS in a Toyota Hiace Bus marked BC 967 GWA.

It would be recalled that Aghajani has been under the custody of the SSS since November 25, 2010 when he was arraigned before the Magistrate court.

Even though the other accused persons on that day pleaded not guilty to the 2-count criminal charge filed against them, the Iranian refused taking his plea, contending that he would not do until his embassy in Nigeria send a lawyer to represent him in the matter.

He had on Friday last week, instructed his counsel, Chief Uche, to initiate contempt proceedings against the Director General of the SSS, following his continued stay under incarceration even after an Abuja high court on December 23, 2010, ordered that he should be released on bail pending the hearing and determination of the substantive criminal suit against them.

Justice Ishaq Bello ordered his release sequel to a letter of undertaking written to him by the Iranian embassy in Nigeria, guaranteeing that it would ensure his availability for trial.

The Iranian embassy relied on the provisions of section 341(2) (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC, and sections 35(4) and 39 of the 1999 constitution, as well as, sections 17, 18 and 27 of the Fire-Arms Act Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004 to request his release.

Justice Bello while acceding to that request, ordered the Iranian embassy to produce two reasonable citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran to stand surety for the accused person, adding that the sureties must deposit N20 million each before he could be released.

He maintained that the offence is bail-able, stressing that the refusal of the prosecuting team to file a counter-affidavit in opposition to the bail request implied consent on the part of the Nigerian government.

In the withdrawn FIR, the SSS alleged that Aghajani conspired with the other accused persons to import and did import 13 twenty-feet containers loaded with assorted calibers of prohibited firearms consisting of 60mm mortar, 120m HE mortars, 81mm mortars, 170mm rockets and 23mm Apit for Gmzu 23, into Apapa port, contrary to section 27(1) a (i) (iii) of the firearms Act laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004.

While the security agency maintained that the conspiracy to commit the offence began as early as July 7 to 15 July, it however told the trial court that the actual shipment took place between October 12 and 25, 2010, adding that the embattled Iranian attempted to hoodwink authorities at the port into believing that he was shipping building materials to Banjul Gambia.

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