Iranian, Nigerian clearing agents bag 17 years each for arms importation

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, yesterday sentenced an Iranian, Azim Aghajani to 17 years imprisonment for illegally importing 13-container loads of firearms and explosives into Nigeria from Islamic Republic of Iran. Also convicted alongside Aghajani is a Nigerian clearing agent, Ali Jega.

The trial judge, Justice Okechukwu Okeke sentenced Aghajani and Jega to 17 years imprisonment each after pronouncing them guilty of the offences. They were alleged to have conspired to import the said consignment into Nigeria without licence contrary to the law.

On counts three and four, the convicts were said to have made false declaration as to the contents of the containers on the Bill of Lading and concealed the true contents.

Specifically, they were said to have declared that the containers contained construction materials including stones and wood. Aghajani had in his evidence in chief told Justice Okeke that he did not know the true contents of the consignments.

He testified that he was introduced by his friend, Ismaeel Seifian to one Masood Behineh in Tairan, Iran who contracted him to help his company known as Behineh Trading Company to ship a 13-container load of building materials to Gambia through Nigeria since there was no direct shipping line to Gambia from Iran. The defence also argued during trial that the consignments were meant for military training in Banjul, the Gambia.
Azim Aghajani

Jega, during trial, also maintained that he knew nothing about the actual contents of the consignments and that he was just a victim of circumstance. But Justice Okeke, in his judgment, said the prosecution was able to tender an email between Aghajani and Jega, thereby putting a lie to the claim by Jega that he knew nothing about the deal.

Reviewing the case, the judge said: “Again on the claim that the consignment was for military training in Banjul, the prosecution tendered a statement from the government of The Gambia where they dissociated themselves from the deal. If the goods were actually meant for trans-shipment, there is no way it could not have been stated on the bill of lading,” the court held.

However, during allocutos (plea for leniency), the convicts and their lawyers were allowed to address the court. Lawyer to the Iranian, Chris Uche (SAN) urged the court to be lenient with his client and discharge him having spent close to three years in detention.

Uche also urged the court to repatriate Aghajani to Iran to serve his jail term in the event that the court was unwilling to release him. Jega also pleaded with the judge to be lenient with him, saying he would not have participated in the deal if he had known the contents of the consignments to be explosives.

Justice Okeke, after considering the submissions, sentenced the convicts to five years each on the first, fourth and fifth counts and two years each on count three. Count two, which alleged that the convicts were in possession of firearms was struck out on the ground that they were yet to be in control of the containers as at the time of their arrest.

The judge, however, ruled that the jail term would run concurrently and would start to run from January 2011 when the convicts were first arraigned.


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