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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Iran Gets Paid For Nigerian Match Cancellation despite Seizure Iranian Arms Shipment

Iran, supported by FIFA, soccer’s world body, has succeeded in having cake and eating it at the same time.

After being caught supplying arms to Nigerian opposition groups, Iran is being reimbursed for the expense of Nigeria cancelling a friendly soccer match in Tehran.

Officially Nigeria cancelled the match two weeks before it was scheduled to take place in November because it said some of its top players were suffering injuries.

Privately, Nigerian officials said the match was cancelled in response to Nigerian authorities seizing 13 containers with Iranian weapons, including rockets, grenades and mortars labelled as building materials. The authorities believe the weapons confiscated in the port of Lagos were intended for militant Nigerian Muslim groups.

French shipping company CMA CGM SA said hat an Iranian company used one of its vessels to illegally transport the arms to Lagos after labelling them as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”

The Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) took its demand for $300,000 in compensation for expenses occurred to FIFA, which pronounced in its favour. Nigeria has offered to pay $200,000 but has yet to receive a response from Iran. FIFA’s support of Iran’s demand is based on the fact that there is no hard evidence that Nigeria cancelled because of the arms shipment and therefore the Islamic republic is entitled to compensation.

A Nigerian court on Friday adjourned the trial of a Nigerian suspect, Ali Abbas Jega, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Azim Aghajani, charged with involvement in the arms shipment so that it could hear the Iranian defendant’s bail application. Aghajani and Jega have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The arms shipment has drawn international attention because it could constitute a violation of United Nations sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. It has also sparked diplomatic tensions between West African nations and Iran.

Aghajani's lawyer, Chris Uche, said the arms shipment was a "normal business transaction" between Iran and Gambia, which Tehran says was the final destination for the weapons.

Gambia has denied it was the intended recipient of the weapons and has cut diplomatic ties with Iran over the dispute. Senegal has expressed concern that the arms could end up in the hands of separatist rebels in its south.

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