Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Illegal firearms importers change lawyers, opt for plea bargain

Two out of the five men being prosecuted by the Federal Government for unlawful importation of 661 pump -action rifles into the country have indicated their intention to enter into plea bargain with the prosecution .

The defendants – Mahmud Hassan , Oscar Okafor , Donatus Achinulo , Matthew Okoye , said to be at large , and Salihu Danjuma – had been arraigned by the Attorney General of the Federation on June 14 before the Federal High Court in Lagos .

They had all pleaded not guilty to the eight charges pressed against them , while the trial judge, Justice Ayokunle Faji , refused their bail applications in view of the gravity of the charges levelled against them .
The matter was subsequently adjourned till September 25 for trial .

However , at the resumed proceedings on Monday , the second and third defendants, Oscar Okafor and Donatus Achinulo, respectively, who had changed their lawyers, indicated their intention to change their plea from not guilty to guilty .

The application was made orally on behalf of Okafor by Mr . Rotimi Jacobs ( SAN ), his new lawyer, and on behalf of Achinulo by Mr . Paul Ananaba (SAN ) .

However , the judge directed the defendants to notify the AGF of their intention .
The matter was subsequently adjourned till September 26 .

In the charges , the AGF said the accused persons brought 661 pump -action rifles into the country from Turkey through the Apapa Port in Lagos , using a 40 -feet container, which they falsely claimed contained steel doors .

To facilitate the illegal importation, the accused persons allegedly forged a number of documents including a bill of lading, a Form M and a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report.

According to the prosecution , in order to evade payment of Customs duty , the accused persons allegedly forged a bill of lading issued at Istanbul on January 9, 2017 , falsely claiming that it was issued at Shanghai, China.

In the forged bill of lading, they allegedly filled “ steel door ” as the content of the container instead of rifles .

They were also said to have allegedly offered a bribe of N 400, 000 to an official of the Nigeria Customs Service attached to the Federal Operative Unit to influence the said officer not to conduct a “ hundred per cent search on the 40 -feet container with number PONU 825914/ 3. ”

The prosecution also alleged that the first accused person, Hassan , corruptly gave N 1m to government officials at the Apapa Port in order to prevent the search of the container by Customs officials .

In the last count , the Federal Government alleged that the defendants had between 2012 and 2016 illegally imported several double-barreled shotguns , pump -action rifles and single -barreled shotguns into the country through Lagos .

The eight counts pressed against them border on conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms , forgery, uttering of forged documents , and bribery.

The offences were said to be contrary to sections 1 (2 )( c ), 1 (14 ) (a) (i) and 3( 6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17 , Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014.

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