The court also ordered the immediate re-opening of Amigo Supermarket.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday sentenced Talal Roda, a Lebanese, to life in prison for illegal possession of firearms.
Mr. Ademola, who gave the verdict in his judgment, held that Mr. Roda was guilty of conspiracy to transport, import, sell and hoard large unlicensed firearms stored at No.3 Gaya Road, Kano.
Mr. Roda, also accused of being a member of the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, along with two of his compatriots, Mustapha Fawaz and Abdallah Thahini, were charged with criminal conspiracy and unlawful importation of prohibited firearms.
They were arrested in May in connection with a large cache of arms found at the Gaya Road residence in Kano. Mr. Fawaz is a co-owner of Abuja’s Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park.
The judge, however, said the prosecution failed to prove the allegation of illegal possession against Messrs Fawaz and Thahini.
“It is clear from the evidence adduced by both the prosecution and Roda that he (Roda) is guilty on count four and nine of the charge.”
“He did not only reside at No.3 Gaya Road, Kano, he was in charge of the arm cache, allegedly managed by Abdulhassan Tahir, now at large.”
“In this circumstance, Roda is found guilty of illegal possession which carries life sentence, while the first and the second accused persons are freed from this,’’ he said.
Similarly, the judge dismissed the declaration sought by the prosecution, urging the court to hold that Hezbollah was an International Terrorist Organisation.
Hezbollah is considered by the U.S. and recently by the EU as a terrorist organisation. The Lebanese organisation has both a political arm, which has representatives in government, and a military wing.
Justice Ademola said that aspect of the allegation linking the three accused persons to a terrorist organisation could not be proved by the prosecution.
“The Terrorism Protection Act (TPA) underscores the elements that must be fulfilled by a group to be declared as a terrorism organisation.”
“The court is not convinced by the allegation that Hezbollah is an international terrorist organisation.”
“This is because Nigeria is signatory to about 12 international laws on terrorism and Hezbollah has not been captured in these statutes as a terrorist organisation.”
“If such law declaring Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation exists elsewhere, it is yet to be domesticated and published in a Federal gazette in Nigeria.”
“I hold that the allegation is baseless and stand dismissed against the three accused persons,” he said.
On the allegation that Roda, Fawaz and Thahini converted Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park to meeting points to plan terrorists’ attacks, the judge said no evidence was adduced by the prosecution to prove the charge.
Ademola further held that Fawaz, the owner of the two business outfits located in Abuja, did not convert his two premises to terrorists’ haven.
“Fawaz, Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement park are hereby absolved of all the allegations and are therefore freed,’’ he said.
On the charge of money laundering instituted against the second accused person, Thahini, over non-declaration of 61,170 dollars at the Aminu Kano Airport, Kano, Mr. Ademola said the prosecution could not prove the allegation.
“I tend to believe the confessional statement made by Thahini that he was at the point of declaring the money before he was arrested.”
“The security operatives that accosted Thahini did not do so because of the money he carried, they only discovered the cash during his search,’’ he held.
In his consequential order, Mr. Ademola said that the management of the Prison Service should immediately release the first and the second accused persons to enable them return to their homes.
He further held that Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park must be immediately vacated and opened by the State Security Service or other agents of government in charge.
Also, Mr. Ademola directed that the sum of 61,170 dollars sized from Mr. Thahini should be returned to him.
According to him, the impounded firearms should be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Earlier, Ahmed Raji, counsel to the accused persons, pleaded with the court to use its discretion in sentencing Mr. Roda.
Mr. Raji said the plea was predicated on the fact that Mr. Roda was a first offender and had assisted the security operatives during their investigations.
He further said the convict has a wife, children and grandchildren to watch over.
However, the judge said that Section 131(1) of the Terrorism Protection Act under which the convict was charged, prescribed life sentence.
“This section of the Act has barred me from using any discretion in sentencing the convict,’’ he said.