Arms Importation: FG Withdraws Charges against Russian Sailors

The federal government  Tuesday withdrew the charges filed against the 15 Russian sailors for unlawfully importing arms to the country at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The Russians are:  Zhelyazkov Andrey, Savchenko Sergel, Lopatin Alexey and Baranovskly Nikolay.
Llia Shubov, Dimitry Bannyrh, Alexander Tsarikov and Kononov Sergel.
Others are Chichkanov Vasily, Varlygin Igor, Komilov Alexander, Mishin Pavel, Korotchenko Andrey, Vorobev Mikhail, Stepan Oleksiuk and their vessel, “MV Myre Seadiver.”
The accused were charged on four-count, bordering on unlawful importation of firearms to Nigeria, as well as non-disclosure of the content of their vessel.
When the case was mentioned yesterday, the prosecutor, Mrs. Usman Hajara, informed the court of an amended charge before it.
She told the court that the charges had been dropped against all the previous accused, adding that the amended charge now reflected the names of a Nigerian, Stanley Chineye and his company, Maritime Services Limited.
She prayed the court to withdraw the initial charge reflecting the names of the accused, their vessel, and their company Moral Security Group Limited, and substitute it with the amended charge.
The trial judge, Justice Jame Tsoho, accordingly, struck out the charge containing the names of the Russians, and adjourned the case to November 26 for trial of the new accused.
Though no reason was given for the withdrawal of the charges against the Russian sailors, investigations revealed that it might not be unconnected with the pressure by the Russian government on the Nigerian authorities to release its citizens.
The accused were first arraigned on February 19 this year before Justice Okechukwu Okeke.
They, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges and Justice Okeke released them on bail to the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, while the vessel was admitted to bail in a bond of $500,000 to be obtained from First Bank Plc.
The case was then transferred to Justice Tsoho, following the retirement of Okeke from the bench.
At their arraignment, the prosecutor had told the court that the defendants were arrested with their vessel by Naval officers on October 18, 2012, in Lagos.
He said the defendants had entered the Nigerian territorial waters with their vessel, without due licence and clearance from the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
According to the prosecutor, the accused had also refused to declare the content of the vessel contrary to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2002.
Justice Tosho said when the vessel was arrested and opened by the Naval officers, a cache of firearms and ammunition were discovered in it.
He said the alleged offences contravened the provisions of section 27 of the Firearms Act, Cap F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, as well as the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offence Act, Cap M17 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
In the new charge, the said Chineye was alleged to have acted as agent to the Russian vessel, and had allegedly misrepresented to them, that he had duly obtained licence from the Nigeria Navy, for the entrance of the vessel into Nigeria.
The assertion was said to be false.