While the world was still reeling from the aftermath of a US government drone strike that killed Qassem Souleimani, the Commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian authorities promptly appointed Esmail Ghaani to replace the slain major general.
Ghaani, as Souleimani’s deputy in the Quds Force for 13 years, was responsible for, among others, financial disbursements to paramilitary groups like Hezbollah, the US Treasury wrote.
However, his influences did not stop in the Middle East but extended as far away as Africa, where he was linked to an arms shipment scandal in Lagos in October 2010.
A self-acclaimed Tehran businessman, Azim Aghajani, was arrested and prosecuted by Nigerian authorities over the arms shipment, which was believed to be headed for The Gambia or Senegal, in defiance of a UN arms embargo on Iran, from where the arms were imported.
The arms were found inside 13 shipping containers labelled as building materials.
Some of the items found in the controversial shipment included Rocket Launchers, Grenades and 107mm rockets designed to attack static targets and used by armies to support infantry units, Ebeano Chronicles reported.
The Iranian was alleged to be a member of the IRGC, an accusation he denied. He was also on a UN blacklist. In placing Aghajani on its blacklist, the UN said the Iranian was a Revolutionary Guards member tied to “Iranian support for terrorism and extremism worldwide”.
The US government described Aghajani as a “longtime IRGC-QF official with ties to The Gambia”. It said Aghajani acted on behalf of the IRGC-QF in facilitating the weapons shipment intended for The Gambia.
Aghajani, alongside his Nigerian accomplice and shipping agent, Usman Abbas Jega, was convicted in May 2013 on four of five charges relating to the shipment.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos sentenced the duo to five years in prison each.
According to the US Treasury, which weighed in on the issue, Ghaani’s authority covered IRGC-QF financial disbursements to IRGC-QF elements, including elements in Africa, as well as to various terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.
It further said as Deputy Commander, Ghaani had financial oversight of the IRGC-QF weapons shipment that made its way into Nigeria en-route The Gambia.