15 Russians accused of unlawfully importing arms and ammunition into Nigeria, were yesterday set free by a Federal High Court, Lagos, following an application to withdraw the charges against them by the Federal Government.
The Russian sailors – Zhelyazkov Andrey; Savchenko Sergel; Lopatin Alexey; Baranovskly Nikolay; Llia Shubov; Dimitry Bannyrh; along with Alexander Tsarikov; Kononov Sergel; Chichkanov Vasily; Varlygin Igor; Komilov Alexander; Mishin Pavel; Korotchenko Andrey; Vorobev Mikhail and Stepan Oleksiuk were arrested by the Nigeria Navy on October 18, last year, onboard a vessel, MV Myre Seadiver, for allegedly carrying cache of arms into the nation’s water without authorisation.
They were handed over to the prosecuting agencies, who later charged the accused to court on four counts of unlawful importation of firearms and non disclosure of content of vessel.
The accused were first arraigned on February 19, 2013, before Justice Okechukwu Okeke, now retired.
They had pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released on bail to the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, while the vessel was admitted to bail in a bond of $500,000(USD) to be obtained from First Bank Plc.
Following Okeke’s retirement, the case was transferred to Justice Jame Tsoho.
They had pleaded not guilty to the offences, which were said to have contravened Sections 27 of the Firearms Act, as well as the Provisions of the Miscellaneous Offence Act, 2004.
At the resumed hearing before Tsoho, Prosecuting Counsel, Mrs. Usman Hajara, informed the court of an amended charge before it.
She said that all previous charges against the Russians have been dropped while an amended charge against one Stanley Chineye and his firm, Maritime Services Limited was filed.
Hajara prayed the court to strike out the charges against the Russians, their vessel as well as their company, Moral Security Group Limited, while the amended charge be substituted.
Tsoho granted the prosecution’s prayer by striking out the charges against the foreigners and fixed November 26 for trial of the new accused.
According to the amended charge, Chineye allegedly acted as agent to the Russian vessel and had allegedly misguided them that he had obtained permit from the Nigeria Navy for the vessel to enter the nation’s waters, which was false.