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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nigeria Compensates Iran for Cancelling Match To Protest Arms Shipment

Nigeria has agreed to pay the Iranian football association $250,000 in compensation for its cancellation of a friendly soccer match in Tehran in protest against an alleged Iranian attempt to smuggle weapons to Nigerian opposition groups.

“We have reached a mutual consensus of paying them $250,000. We don’t have any other option in the case,” said Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) spokesperson Ademola Olajire in defense of the controversial payment.

Nigeria officially cancelled the match that had been scheduled for November 17 of last year because some its top players were still recovering from injuries.

Privately, however, 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 that 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) had demanded $300,000 in compensation for expenses occurred. It won FIFA backing for the claim. FIFA’s support was based on the fact that there was no hard evidence that Nigeria cancelled because of the arms shipment.

A Nigerian suspect, Ali Abbas Jega, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Azim Aghajani, charged with involvement in the arms shipment, are standing trial in a Nigerian court. The two men have pleaded innocence.

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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