The Russians are accused of illegal arms importation to Nigeria.
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday transferred the case involving 15 Russian sailors to another judge. The Russians are charged with unlawful importation of arms to Nigeria
The defendants include Zhelyazkov Andrey, Savchenko Sergel, Chichkanov Vasily, Varlygin Igor, Komilov Alexander, Lopatin Alexey and Baranovskly Nikolay.
Others are Mishin Pavel, Llia Shubov, Dimitry Bannyrh, Alexander Tsarikov, Kononov Sergel, Korotchenko Andrey, Vorobev Mikhail, and Stepan Oleksiuk.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke told parties in the suit that the case had been re-assigned to another judge, James Tsoho, for trial.
Mr. Okeke said that the transfer was due to the fact that he might not be able to conclude the case by May 18, when he is due to retire.
“My last court sitting will be on May 17 and so, it is clear that the time frame is quite short,’’ Mr. Okeke said.
The case will begin “de novo’’ afresh before the new judge.
Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecution, Olufumilayo Fatunde, told the court that not all the 15 Russians were apprehended on board the vessel.
She told the court that those arrested in the vessel would be sorted out and differentiated from others before the next judge, because not all of them will be prosecuted.
The defendants are charged together with their vessel, MV Myre Seadiver, on four-counts bordering on unlawful importation of firearms as well as non declaration of the content of the vessel.
They, however, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Mr. Okeke had released the defendants on bail to the Russian Ambassador in Nigeria, while the vessel was admitted to bail in a bond of 500,000 dollars to be obtained from First Bank Plc.
At their arraignment, the prosecutor, Ernest Ezebilo had told the court that the defendants were arrested by naval officers on October 18, 2012, in Lagos State.
He said that the defendants had entered the Nigerian territorial waters with their vessel without due license and clearance from the Nigerian Customs Service.
According to the prosecutor, the accused also refused to declare the content of the vessel contrary to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2002.
He said that naval officers discovered a cache of firearms and ammunition in the vessel.
Mr. Okeke said that the alleged offences contravened the provisions of the Firearms Act, Cap F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offence Act, Cap M17 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Section 27 of the Firearms Act provides for a penalty of not less than 10 years for the offence.
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