LAGOS, Nigeria — The trial over an illegal Iranian arms shipment intercepted in Nigeria began Wednesday, with both the presiding judge and a defense lawyer questioning suspect statements allegedly obtained by the country's secret police.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke flung one of the statements out into the audience, complaining that the date of a rights waiver came a day after the suspect allegedly confessed to bringing in shipping containers full of 107 mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons.
"If you people want to mess up a case, mess it up in your office!" Okeke shouted at prosecutors. "People should not use the court as a cover!"
The judge's irritation did not bode well for prosecutors, who say Iranian citizen Azim Aghajani and Nigerian Usman Abbas Jega orchestrated the illegal arms shipment. The two men have pleaded not guilty to the three-count indictment they face.
Customs officials discovered the weapons Oct. 26 in Lagos' busy Apapa Port, hidden inside of 13 containers marked as holding building materials. Authorities have said the shipment was bound for Gambia, though Nigerian officials initially claimed the weapons were intended to be used by politicians over the coming April elections.
The case has sparked a diplomatic row for Iran, barred by the UN from shipping weapons internationally. Nigeria has reported Iran to the UN over the shipment and Gambia has cut its diplomatic ties with Tehran.