The United States government has charged three men with attempted illegal importation of arms and ammunition to Nigeria.
The defendants, who are all residents of Maryland in the U.S., are: Wilson Nuyila Tita, age 45, of Owings Mills, Maryland; Eric Fru Nji, age 40, of Fort Washington, Maryland; and Wilson Che Fonguh, age 39, of Bowie, Maryland.
Announcing the fresh indictment on Friday, the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Maryland said the defendants conspired with each other and with others to export from the U.S. to Nigeria “defence articles and items identified on the United States Munitions List (USML) and the Commerce Control List (CCL) without first obtaining export licences.”
They allegedly made these moves from at least November 2017 through July 19, 2019.
“The defendants also allegedly conspired to conceal from the United States that those items were being shipped from the Port of Baltimore in Maryland to Nigeria and at least one other location in Africa.
“The defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly contributed funds for the purchase of firearms, ammunition, reloading materials and other equipment for shipping overseas,” the statement announcing the approval of the charges by a federal grand jury earlier on Thursday, read, in part.
The indictment also alleged that the defendants and their co-conspirators communicated about their efforts and plans to ship weapons and ammunitions using an on-line encrypted messaging application and code words in order to conceal their activities.
As detailed in the indictment, the defendants and other conspirators concealed the firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes, and other items in heavily wrapped packages and duffle bags, and inside sealed compressor units, placing those items into a shipping container destined for Nigeria without obtaining the requisite licenses from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Commerce,” the statement added.
It stated further that, as part of the conspiracy, “one of the co-conspirators allegedly caused the submission of electronic export information to the U.S. government for the container which listed materially false information as to the identity of the exporter and the intermediate and ultimate consignee, as well as the ultimate destination of the container’s contents.”
The indictment alleged specifically that on January 17, 2019, the defendants and their co-conspirators “exported, attempted to export, or caused to be exported to Nigeria articles on the USML the export of which was controlled under the Arms Export Control Act, without first having obtained the required license or written approval from the U.S. Department of State, specifically: 38 semi-automatic firearms; over 35,000 rounds of ammunition; and 44 magazines.”
They were also said to have on that same day, “allegedly exported to Nigeria one Bushnell Trophy Rifle Optic and one Burris AR Rifle Scope.”
The exportation of the items was sent to being controlled under the Commerce Control List, without first having obtained the required license or written approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“Finally, the indictment alleges that the defendants transported 28 firearms with obliterated serial numbers, including 18 rifles,” the statement added.
Federal jury returns indictment
The statement said on Friday that a federal grand jury has returned the indictment charging the three Maryland residents with four counts.
Federal charges approved by the grand jury, according to the statement, include conspiracy, violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the Export Reform Control Act, related to the export of firearms and ammunition from the United States to Nigeria.
The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge, James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; and Special Agent in Charge Timothy Jones of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division, the statement said.
The statement said if convicted, the defendants each face a mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy; a maximum of 20 years in federal prison each for violating the Arms Export Control Act and for violating the Export Control Reform Act; and a maximum of five years in federal prison for transportation of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.
Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, it added.
“A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”
The defendants were each expected to have an initial appearance on Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. DiGirolamo beginning at 3:00 p.m.
An indictment is not a finding of guilt, the Attorney’s Office said in the statement. “An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.”
Seven charged in related cases
Seven defendants have been charged in related cases and of those six have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The revelation about the allegation of illegal importation of arms and ammunition into the country is coming amid worsening insecurity situation in country fuelled by perpetrators who are believed to be better equipped than the Nigerian police.