A United Nations panel of experts on Iran met with Nigeria’s foreign minister as part of a mission to assess whether an arms shipment seized last year in the West African country put Tehran in breach of UN sanctions.
A court in Nigeria charged an alleged member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and three Nigerians last November over a shipment of mortars and rockets seized in the main port of Lagos which had originated in Iran.
Nigeria reported the seizure — which including rockets and other explosives hidden in containers of building materials — to the UN Security Council two months ago for an apparent breach of sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, Reuters reports.
Diplomats and intelligence sources said members of Iran’s al Quds force, part of its Revolutionary Guard charged with foreign operations, were involved in the case, which risks damaging Tehran’s quest for closer ties with Africa.
“Thank you for the quality of meetings and the exchanges we’ve had,” Salome Zourabichvili, coordinator of the UN panel, told Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia in a speech in the capital Abuja on the second day of the visit.
“We have all been struck by how open the answers were,” Zourabichvili said.
Iran is subject to UN sanctions, including the banning of all weapons sales “directly or indirectly from its territory”, over its refusal to halt a sensitive nuclear programme.
The panel will report back to the UN Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee once it finishes work in Nigeria.
TRIAL DUE TO BEGIN
The visit comes two weeks before the trial begins of Azim Adhajani, identified by Nigerian prosecutors as a Tehran-based businessman and member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was charged in November alongside an alleged Nigerian accomplice with importing prohibited firearms.
Adhajani, 43, declined to enter a plea in November but his alleged accomplice and two other Nigerians pleaded not guilty.
Intelligence sources say the trial could prove uncomfortable for Iran, uncovering the extent to which al Quds has established a growing presence in West Africa.
“The incident that brought the panel here highlights the dangers we all face … You could be a victim of terrorism or used as a platform for terrorism,” Ajumogobia said.
Court documents said the seized weapons included assorted calibres of mortars and 107 mm rockets — designed to attack static targets and used by armies to support infantry units — as well as shells for a 23 mm anti-aircraft gun.
Mystery surrounds the intended destination of the weapons, which arrived in Nigeria in July and were intercepted by the secret service in October following an intelligence tip-off.
Nigeria has said the shipment was originally meant for an address in Abuja but was intercepted when an attempt was made to re-export it to Gambia.
Iran has said the cargo belonged to a private firm and was for sale “legitimately” to a West African country. It has described the seizure as a misunderstanding.