By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — An Iranian, Azim Aghajani, who allegedly conspired with three Nigerians, Ali Usman Abbas Jega, Aliyu Oroji Wamako and Muhammad Tukur Umar, to import 13 containers laden with rockets and other ammunition into Nigeria on October 25, 2010, was yesterday granted bail by an Abuja High Court sitting in Maitama.
The Iranian has been under the custody of the State Security Service, SSS, since November 25 when he was arraigned before an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Wuse Zone 2, alongside his alleged co-conspirators.
Despite that the criminal action against them was initiated at the Magistrate Court level, the high court yesterday released Aghajani following a letter of undertaking written to it by the Iranian embassy in Nigeria, guaranteeing that it would ensure the availability of the suspect for trial.
The embassy in a bail application dated December 16, but filed in court by its counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, on December 17, 2010, said the Iranian government would not shield any of its citizens that transgressed the Nigerian criminal law from facing the consequences.
No legal representation for AGF, SSS
Meanwhile, there was no legal representation for either the Attorney-General of the Federation or the SSS in court when the bail application was granted by Justice Ishaq Bello who presided over the matter yesterday.
Justice Bello in his ruling maintained that the offence upon which the Iranian was facing trial was bailable, adding 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.
The Judge noted that the Ministry of Justice was duly served with all the requisite court processes and the hearing notice, adding that he was persuaded by all the averments contained in the application, to release the suspect on bail pending the hearing and determination of the substantive criminal case subsisting against him and the others at the Magistrate Court.
Consequently, he ordered the Iranian embassy to produce two reasonable citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran to stand surety for the accused person.
The two sureties were further ordered to deposit N20 million each, even as the high court yesterday ordered that the appearance of all the accused persons for trial should remain as earlier slated by the trial Magistrate Court.
UN team visits Nigeria in January
Meanwhile, a United Nations, UN, team will visit Nigeria in the third week of January over the arms shipment intercepted from Iran, a senior Nigerian official has said.
“The eight-man UN panel of experts on Iran will arrive Nigeria tentatively on January 18 or 21, for a three-day working visit,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in New York.
The official said the panel’s earlier request to visit Nigeria this month was not cleared from Abuja due to “administrative reasons.”
“But I can confirm to you that we have written them requesting that they choose between those two dates in January,” the source added.
The eight-man panel was appointed in November by the UN Secretray-General to monitor states’ implementation of the sanctions against Iran.
A Nigerian, Maj_Gen. Ishola Williams, is a member of the panel, which is coordinated by Ms. Salomé Zourabichvili of France.
Other members of the panel expected to visit Nigeria are Jonathan Brewer from the UK, Kenichiro Matsubayashi from Japan, and Jacqueline W. Shire from the U.S.
Also on the team are, Elena Vodopolova from Russian, Christof Wegner from Germany and Wenlei Xu of the People’s Republic of China.
The eight_man panel while in Nigeria will meet with officials of some key government agencies involved in the investigation. They will also inspect the seized cache of arms.
Nigeria reported Iran to the UN in November after security agents intercepted weapons hidden among building materials on a ship docked in Lagos in October.
An Iranian man and three Nigerians had been accused of attempting to import the arms.
Iran is under UN Security Council sanctions, including an arms embargo, over its nuclear programme.
The Panel of Experts, which monitors states’ implementation of the sanctions, would report on whether the weapons seized in Nigeria is a violation of the sanction.