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Trial delayed for Iranian in Nigerian arms case

Azim Aghajani.
by Staff Writers
Abuja (AFP) Jan 31, 2011
The trial of an alleged Iranian Revolutionary Guard over an illegal arms shipment seized in Nigeria was delayed on Monday, with prosecutors seeking to have the case moved from the capital to Lagos.

Prosecutors withdrew charges against Azim Aghajani and a Nigerian suspect in a court in Abuja and said they had filed the case in Lagos, where the arms were seized in October.

Charges were dropped against two other Nigerians accused in the case, but no reason was given.

The case has drawn international concern since the illegal arms shipment could violate UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

"Charges are already pending against the two of them at the federal high court, Lagos, and we have it on good authority that the case is slated for hearing this week," prosecutor Moses Idakwo told the court in Abuja.

Judge Hafsat Soso agreed to drop the case in Abuja, but Aghajani's lawyer sharply criticised the move.

"This smacks of extreme bad faith on the part of the prosecution," Chris Uche said. "This is persecution and not prosecution."

Prosecutors indicated they wanted to move the case to Lagos because the seized arms to be used as evidence in the trial were still there and could not be moved to Abuja.

Officers from Nigeria's secret police, the State Security Service, took away Aghajani and the Nigerian suspect after the hearing.

Last week, Aghajani's lawyers alleged that the SSS had not released the Iranian despite a bail order granted on December 23 and that they had launched a legal challenge to his continued detention. The SSS has not commented.

Aghajani and the three Nigerians had been charged in connection with a shipment of 13 containers of weapons loaded at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and seized by Nigerian officials in Lagos in October.

After the containers arrived in Nigeria, the shipper asked to have them reloaded and sent to Gambia, a tiny west African country wedged inside Senegal.

Nigeria reported the seizure to the UN Security Council, which has approved four sets of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. The sanctions include a ban on arms sales.

A UN panel of experts on sanctions on Iran recently flew to Nigeria to investigate the weapons shipment.

Iran has said the shipment was sent by a private company.

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