A staff of leading container carrier, Maersk Line, Mercy Ebri, on Friday, told a Federal High Court, Lagos, that her company was not involved in the illegal shipment of 611 sophisticated pump action riffles into the country by the importer.
Mrs. Ebri stated this while being cross-examined by the lawyers to the defendants, who are being tried before Justice Ayotunde Faji, by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Those standing trial before the court are Mahmud Hassan Trading Company Limited and its Managing Director, Hassan Mahmud, Salisu Abdulahi Danjuma, Oscar Orkafor, Donatus Ezebunwa Achinulo and Matthew Okoye, who is said to be at large.
They are facing charges bordering on illegal importation of fire arms, conspiracy, forgery and altering of documents, offering of graft to government officials and importation of prohibited goods.
The offences according to the prosecutor, Julius Ajakaiye, are contrary to to and punishable under sections 3(6),1(14)(a)(I) 1(2) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and section 98(1) (b) of the Criminal Code Act.
All the accused persons except Matthew Okoye, who is said to be at large, were first arraigned before the court on June 14, 2017 on offences which bordered on illegal importation of fire arms, conspiracy, forgery and altering of documents, offering of graft to government officials and importation of prohibited goods.
The AGF, in charge number FHC/L/190c/17, alleged that all the accused persons conspired with one another to illegally import into Nigeria 661 pump action rifles. They were also alleged to have forged some documents including two Bill of Ladings, with one reading ‘Shanghai China’ as port of loading instead of ‘Istanbul’ and another one which reads ‘Steel Doors’ as the contents of the container in the Customs’ Form M, Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) used in smuggling the the said 661 rifles Into the country.
Particularly, a retired Customs Officer, Mahmud Hassan, was alleged to have corruptly offered the sum of N400,000.00, to one Aliu Musa, the Examination Officer of the Federal Operation Unit of the Nigeria Customs Service with an intent to prevent 100 percent search on a container marked PONU 825914/3, which was used in bringing the said arms into the country. He was also alleged to have corruptly given the sum of N1 million to government officials at Apapa port, through his colleague, Danjuma Abdulahi, in order to prevent the searching of the said container used in bringing in the 661 illegally imported pump action rifles.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Friday, Ebri, who holds a Masters Degree in Transport Management and Post Graduate Diploma in Shipping Management, while being cross-examined by counsel to Mahmud Hassan Trading Limited and its Managing Director, O. J. Akinwale, said, “When the shipper made a request for shipment, we confirmed that the booking and the goods are not contraband, the shipper takes the order to take the container and stuff in the warehouse. Once Customs certified that its okay for us to load, we go ahead. The law did not permit vessel owner to partake in examination and loading”.
When asked about the person that prepared the Bill of Lading, the witness said, “The shipper sends a draft of the Bill of Lading and we print it out on our letter headed paper. It becomes original Bill of Lading. Before we print original Bill of Lading, we send the draft to the shipper if it’s okay we then print. The law didn’t permit us to search the goods during stuffing and examination, we print on the Bill of Lading what the shipper said.”
When further asked if she receive any complaint in relation to the container number PONU8259143 used in bringing the riffles, she said the Customs did not make any complaint, hence it was loaded.
When also asked if she was the officer in charge of the container that came to Apapa on February 16, 2016, she said, “We don’t monitor. Maersk Line doesn’t monitor. The contract between us was just that of carriage from container yard in Turkey to Apapa. That is the contract we had with the carrier”.
The witness also told the court that the seal on the container was not broken or tampered with adding that the container came into the country intact.
She also told the court that upon the arrest of the container and the defendants, she was invited by the Comptroller-General of Customs and made a statement and tendered documents as par what the shipper said the container was carrying.
Further hearing of the matter has been adjourned till Monday, March 25, 2019.