Nigeria suspect says he didn't know cargo had arms

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 12:08 PM
Nigeria suspect says he didn't know cargo had arms

A Nigerian accused of importing illegal arms from Iran told investigators at his trial on Tuesday that he was deceived into thinking the shipment contained building materials.

Defense lawyer Aliyu Yawuri sought to establish that Ali Usman Abbas Jega did not know that the shipment he allegedly helped import into Nigeria contained weapons.

Jega and Iranian citizen Azim Aghajani face four charges over the shipment seized Oct. 26 in Lagos' busy Apapa port. The Gambia-bound shipment included 107 mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons concealed beneath tiles.

Jega said in a statement that Aghajani and another Iranian businessman "deceived me to use my name and office address."

Tuesday's court appearance was the first since the two defendants had been moved from the secretive agency to police custody. Justice Okechukwu Okeke granted the transfer request after defense lawyers argued that they had not been given adequate access to the defendants.

In a statement, Jega wrote that the Iranians wanted to use his "name to send the goods on transit to Nigeria, as well as introduce a clearing agency that shall do the job for them." He added that a businessman identified as Mr. Masud sent him $12,000 to clear the shipment through customs.

To support Jega's claim of ignorance, the defense lawyer said Jega suggested the owners sell the materials after they had spent 90 days at the clearance center and started to accrue storage charges.

"It came to a point when I said 'Why not sell them in Nigeria? There are Igbo traders who deal in construction materials in Lagos,' but he said they must go to Banjul," Jega wrote.

The trial continues on March 21.