One day in May 2000, Kenyan drug lord Ibrahim Akasha was walking hand-in-hand with his wife when a gunman on a motorbike sped by. The two had just stepped into Bloedstraat (Blood Street), in one of Amsterdam’s red districts, when the man whipped out a pistol and fired at Akasha. The bullets ripped through his face, tore his heart and abdomen. He slumped to the ground, dead. Akasha’s death opened a window for a public peek into the operations of his trafficking empire in Kenya, and into the nasty underworld as gangland executions ensued in the Netherlands. It was believed Akasha was caught in the crossfire of a vicious war between Dutch and Yugoslav gangs.
Media reports indicated Akasha had fallen out with Yugoslav barons active in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe over the non-payment of a consignment of heroin worth Sh200 million. A bloodbath followed his execution. Top barons in the Netherlands were eliminated in well planned assassinations and street gunfights. In 2004, another drug dealer Mounir Barsoum was shot dead in his car at traffic lights in Amsterdam, as a spate of gangland assassinations escalated. His daughter, 12, was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition. The gunman fired ten shots into the car.
According to Dutch newspapers, Barsoum had sold Akasha’s consignment of drugs to well-known baron, Sam Klepper.
However, the deal went sour when the drugs were not paid in time, drawing Barsoum’s brother, Magdi, into the dispute as a mediator. In 2002, Magdi was shot dead in the same street where Akasha had died.
Magdi was the man who had invited Akasha to the Netherlands as the dispute festered. Some reports indicated Akasha was actually lured to Amsterdam to be killed, as the foreign drug barons had lost confidence in him. Other reports indicate that the same barons killed him to avoid paying money that they owed him for a shipment of heroin.
His troubles had started in 1996 when he was arrested and charged with drug trafficking in a Nairobi court. Newspapers splashed his pictures, and the publicity reportedly angered the barons who felt it could hurt their interests locally.
When one of his brothers was arrested and charged with trafficking heroin worth Sh13 million in 1998, Akasha turned to a Yugoslav conduit to ship his consignments to Europe. It was this agent who failed to pay, sparking the dispute that eventually led to Akasha’s demise. Dutch police believed Akasha was killed on the orders of Klepper. But just five months after Akasha’s death, Klepper was killed in a public shooting among shoppers. Another drug baron believed to have done business with Magdi, Klaas Bruinsma, had been shot dead outside The Hilton in Amsterdam in 1991.
“It is widely believed these and several other gangland killings relate to an ongoing feud between Dutch and Yugoslav criminals,” online news portal Expatica reported in 2004.
Desperate to have the money paid, Akasha had reportedly abducted the Yugoslav broker involved in the deal. He held him for two months and insisted he would only release him after the cash was paid. Just days after he flew to the Netherlands, surveillance of his activities intensified after police found nearly five tonnes of heroin worth Sh900 million in his house. Kenyan police also alerted their Dutch counterparts. Since then, the Netherlands has emerged as a preferred destination for traffickers shipping Colombian drugs through Eastern Africa. For instance, a haul of cocaine worth Sh6 billion that was seized in 2004 was destined for the Netherlands. The cocaine was destroyed following a court order.
ABOUT THE TRADE
Thanks to Akasha and other shadowy traffickers, Kenya is an important transit route for Southwest Asian hashish and heroin dealers. Europe is the primary market and North America the secondary destination.
Eastern Africa representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr Carsten Hyttel, once remarked that South American traffickers had moved into Kenya.
This was after the tightening of law enforcement in Spain, which was once a main transit point for cocaine headed to Europe.When The Sunday Standard was investigating the suspected routes and methods used to smuggle hard drugs into the country, the Coast Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer, Mr Bernard Mate, expressed suspicion and mistrust. The journalists were questioned about what they had learnt from their investigations.
As narrated by one of the journalists, ‘We met hostility at the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), which registers private speedboats.A senior KMA officer, who declined to give his name, threatened to call the police after we inquired about speedboats and their link in drugs trafficking. But another officer said the authority did not know how many speedboats were in the country.”We are doing some baseline survey and after compiling the data, we will post it on our website,” the officer said. Such records could help in tracing the owners of boats involved in illicit trade.Private speedboats, some of them luxurious, dot almost the entire coastline — from South Coast, the Mombasa Island, Mtwapa, Kilifi, Malindi all the way to Lamu. Private speedboats face trade competition from private jetties. It is suspected that the porous small seaports — from Vanga on the Kenya-Tanzania border in South Coast to Lamu in the North— are used to not only smuggle hard drugs but also some counterfeit goods and guns.Speedboats have been in this trade for a while.Slain drug baron, Ibrahim Akasha, used a speedboat in the trade.
The Government later confiscated the vessel. A speedboat was also used in the Sh6.4 billion-drug haul ($64 million ) part of which was located at a Malindi villa in December 14, 2004.Some of the suspected entry points are Bodo, Kinondo — where a major drug consignment was discovered in 1997 — Shimoni and Majoreni.The Mombasa Old Port on Mombasa Island, Mtwapa Creek, and areas bordering some North Coast hotels, especially where access to the beach is difficult for fishermen and police, are also entry points.Others are in Kanamai area, Kikambala, Bofa, Tezo and Kilifi beach, Watamu, Malindi, Ngomeni, Mambrui and along the beaches of some islands in Lamu.At Ngomeni, villagers say there are some days when there is a flurry of activity at night involving speedboats and some huge sea vessels.When there is such activity, some lorries are always on standby while the owners of the consignments arrive in big expensive cars to ensure everything goes on smoothly.When we visited one of the suspected notorious entry points of smuggled goods and drugs at daytime, it was quiet and deserted. We only found a few fishermen and some young boys who were swimming.”Some big ships usually anchor in the high seas. Small boats are used to reach them,” a Ngomeni resident said.
But no one is sure what kind of activity goes on between the owners of the big vessels in the high seas and the small speedboats.Ordinary fishing boats are used in the smuggling business sometimes, it is alleged.At such sea points, it is suspected that speedboats are used to bring in drugs for local use or those on transit. Crafty drug barons also use roads to bring in narcotics.According to a former drug dealer, who sought anonymity, the road from Likoni Ferry to the Kenya-Tanzania border is frequently used to transport drugs from Dar-es-Salaam to Mombasa.”The drugs are mostly from Pakistan and are offloaded through Dar-es-Salaam port or other routes,” he says.They mostly use matatus, although private top-of-the-range cars, which are rarely stopped and checked on roadblocks, sometimes come in handy.When matatus are used, the former drug baron says, the dealers collude with some police officers.
A spy is usually sent to find out the officers manning roadblocks, just in case “unfriendly” officers happen to be on the scene. The person sent ahead usually strikes deals with wayward officers and ensures safe passage of the vehicle carrying the drugs.The traffickers use mobile phones to get in touch with their contacts at roadblocks or some police officers to ensure safe passage of the drugs.
“The mobile phone has helped a lot in the drug trafficking business,” he reveals.
Drugs transported by road transport, especially hashish, are usually in small quantity, another former drug trafficker says.
He adds: “The narcotics haul in high seas is usually in large quantities.”
He alleges that large quantities of hard drugs still find their way into the country since there are few anti-narcotics police in Mombasa.
The Government, he claims, is incapable of patrolling the long stretch of shore from Kwale to Lamu.Also used to bring in the hard drugs, especially at border points, are bicycles and tuktuks (Three-wheeled taxis).There are many ways of carrying drugs when transported by road.They can be carried in spare tyres, thermos flasks, three-piece suits, buibuis, shoes and even private parts or through ingestion.
“Women are increasingly being used as couriers of hard drugs. It is not easy for them to be nabbed,” the former drug dealer says.
Drugs from Mombasa find their way to Lamu via the Mokowe jetty, he claims.
The drugs are placed in some boats, which head to Matondoni point of Lamu Island instead of Lamu jetty.
The drugs are then loaded onto donkeys and moved into the island for storage in a safe place. Such safe places are distribution points to youths through special couriers (peddlers).
The Moi International Airport, in Mombasa, has also been used as an entry point for drugs despite tight police checks.
According to the International Narcotics Board, some traffickers use small planes.
In Malindi and Lamu, where many youths are hooked to heroin, the former drug dealer cautions against accepting free black or sweet coffee.
“After about three cups of the coffee on three consecutive days, a person can easily get addicted and become one of the customers of some merciless drug dealers,” he warns.Sources allege that some senior people in Government work with local and international drugs cartels.Drug trafficking is big business.Those in it, it is alleged, drive around in expensive cars.
Like Akasha, they always have some “honest” businesses that act as fronts.
The mansions they live in — some right on the beachfronts — are stupendous fortresses and their lifestyle, a source of envy.It is alleged that Akasha used to give some police officers monthly “hand outs”.
When Akasha’s drugs were impounded, it is said that some senior government officials had to make regular trips abroad to meet the Colombian owner for negotiations.
Akasha, notorious drug dealer, confidently swaggered in the town of Mombasa and his private speedboat was always openly and proudly displayed.
Had it not been for a deal gone sour between those involved in the hashish haul netted in 1999, the drug consignment could never have been discovered. The consignment had already found its way to Akasha’s Nyali house hideout.
Akasha was suspected to be close to some high-ranking Government officials and he may never have gotten into trouble.
Some Coast residents want the Government to investigate some tycoons who have mansions along beachfronts and who have built high walls to block access to the beach.Fierce dogs and harsh security guards man their properties.
This is despite the beaches being public utilities.
residents suspect that some foreigners from Italy, Switzerland and other European countries could be using their mansions and private villas to hide drugs and commit other illegal activities.
BUYING PROTECTION : THE CORRUPTION ANGLE
HASHISH HAUL WAS NEVER DESTROYED, TRIBUNAL TOLD
The 4.7 tonnes of hashish impounded from a house in Nyali, Mombasa, in 2000 was never destroyed, a tribunal investigating the conduct of suspended Court of Appeal judge Philip Waki heard yesterday.
Instead, what was destroyed under the supervision of former Nairobi Chief Magistrate Boaz Olao was heroin. The number of sacks destroyed was also less than those indicated in the Occurrence Book at Bamburi Police Station.
Olao, who is now Thika Chief Magistrate, had convicted Mohamed Ghani Taib and another of trafficking in hashish but freed two sons of the late drug baron Ibrahim Akasha, Kamaldin and Baktash for lack of evidence.
Olao was being cross-examined by Lead Counsel Mbuthi Gathenji at the tribunal probing suspended Court of Appeal judges and chaired by retired Appeal Court judge Akilano Akiwumi.
Taib recently claimed that Olao received a Sh4 million bribe from Baktash on May 27, 2000, to influence the outcome of the drug trafficking case before him at the Nairobi High Court.
Taib alleged that Olao was with Waki, who received the money at the Kentmere Club in Limuru. He said Waki put the money in a red Peugeot car parked at the club parking bay. Olao has since confirmed to the tribunal that he has a car of similar make and colour.
Court documents relating to cases against Taib, the two Akasha sons and six others indicated that a Government analyst had identified the drugs as hashish.
Yet in the same files, Taib was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for trafficking in heroin.
“If what was destroyed was heroin, the charge is not sustainable if the substance was hashish,” Gathenji said.
Gathenji also read from the Olao’s ruling that while Kamaldin was freed from remand custody in Malindi on March 15, 2000, when the trafficking took place, the same did not apply for Taib who was in police custody in Mombasa on the same day.
The State Counsel also produced excerpts from the files showing that Olao had allowed a person with a different name to withdraw Taib’s Sh10 million bond which he ( Taib ) and others had been given on May 19, 2000.
Taib had earlier testified that the bond was withdrawn after he quarrelled with Baktash and Kamaldin over allegations that he had caused their father’s death after telling police of the whereabouts of the 4.7 tonnes of hashish.
Instead of Maurice Mutugi Githenji, who had stood surety for Taib, Olao allowed Wallace Muturi Githinji to withdraw the bond.
Taib had testified that it was the Akasha’s who influenced the withdrawal of the bond after the quarrel during the burial ceremony of Ibrahim Akasha at Nyali in Mombasa.
Githenji also drew the attention of the Akiwumi tribunal that there was no evidence in the court documents showing that sureties for Baktash were examined.
AKASHAS ‘BOUGHT POLICE COMMISSIONER A HOUSE’
Former Police Commissioner Edwin Nyaseda was bought a house at Savannah Estate in Nairobi by late drug baron Ibrahim Akasha, a witness told a tribunal investigating suspended Court of Appeal judges.
Mohamed Ghani Taib yesterday told the tribunal investigating the conduct of suspended judge Philip Waki that Nyaseda began working for the Akashas in the early 1990s when the two used to escort containers of drugs to and from various points in Mombasa.
“I was even surprised when I learnt from Kamiti ( Prison ) that Nyaseda was appointed a police commissioner,” Taib, who is serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking said.
The witness, who has been stood down several times to give way for other witnesses, was being cross-examined by Nyaseda’s lawyer Patrick Jaleny.
Taib said the last time he was with Nyaseda was in December 1999, when he sent Sh50,000 and a two bottles of whisky to Nyaseda’s house as a Christmas present from Akasha.
He said he started trafficking drugs with Nyaseda when the latter was Deputy Provincial Criminal Investigations Officer in Mombasa. Taib said there was a woman who could testify that they had lunch at one time in Nyaseda’s house and that he ( Nyaseda ) used to visit his house several times and even ate lunch there.
Taib indicated that the woman who cooked lunch for them at Nyaseda’s residence could be called to testify.
Taib: All my wives are known to Nyaseda, They even cooked food for him.
Jaleny: Do you have documentary evidence to show that you and Nyaseda were together?
Taib: In drug trafficking you can’t have documents. You are just given bribes and you work.
Jaleny: You are an incorrigible, shameless liar who is behaving like a drowning man …
Taib: You have been paid to come to talk like that but I have not been paid.
Taib said Nyaseda allegedly covered up for those involved in the 4.7 tonnes of hashish that was impounded in a Nyali House in Mombasa.
“He did not even want to arrest the owner of the house in which the drug haul was discovered,” Taib charged.
Taib had previously told the tribunal that Waki and former Nairobi Chief Magistrate Boaz Olao had received a Sh4 million bribe from Baktash Akasha at Kentmere Club in Limuru in 2000, to help in the case.
WITNESS: JUDGE WAS IN DRUGS RING
Suspended judge Philip Waki was part of a syndicate run by late drug baron Ibrahim Akasha, a witness told a tribunal investigating the conduct of the judge yesterday.
Mr Mohamed Ghani Taib, who confessed he had been escorting Akasha’s drug convoys from several off-loading sea points said: “Even Waki was in our group”.
He claimed that in also Akasha’s payroll were former police commissioner Edwin Nyaseda, Akasha’s wives and children and other close associates.
Taib claimed that Waki handled the legal side of the syndicate while he, Nyaseda and other police officers in Mombasa escorted drugs to different destinations within the Coast Province. Nyaseda was then Coast Provincial CID boss.
Within the syndicate were brokers and people who dealt with packing and selling of the drugs.
This was not the first time Nyaseda has been mentioned at the tribunal, prompting tribunal chairman retired Appeal Court judge Akilano Akiwumi to order that he be served with adverse notice.
“Each one had their job to perform,” Taib, who is serving a 15-year-sentence at the Kamiti Maximum Prison said. He has appealed against his conviction.
The witness, who was being cross-examined by Waki’s lawyer George Oraro, said he had read of the tribunal while in prison and that he had decided to testify not to help himself with his appeal but to “speak out the truth”.
“I knew there was evidence linking Waki with the Akashas. Many people like me have been jailed because of such kind of judges,” Taib said.
“So you expected this would lead to your release?” Oraro asked.
“No, I just came to tell the tribunal the truth,” Taib said.
“So for you it was just how to connect Waki, Chief Magistrate Boaz Olao and Akasha?” Oraro asked.
“Just to speak the truth. Even Waki knows he was Akasha’s friend,” the witness said.
Taib insisted that Waki was helping Akasha at the judiciary in Mombasa and that he knew all this through Akasha’s sons.
“The particular duties he used to do for Akasha I don’t know but I used to see him with Akasha since 1999,” the witness said.
“Were there any cases of Akasha’s that Waki handled?” Oraro posed.
“I can’t remember but I saw Waki with Akasha in 1997,” Taib said.
“You do not know where the elder Akasha was helped?” Oraro asked.
“It was not my duty to know about the cases, but the relationship was there,” Taib said. He added that he was only involved in escorting drugs and not court cases.
Oraro said the witness could not generalise that Waki was helping Akasha while he did not know of any particular case in which the elder Akasha was helped by the judge.
“Waki was judge and Akasha a drug dealer; so what business were they doing together?” Taib asked Oraro.
Akiwumi, however, asked the witness why he was escorting the drug convoys.
“I was given security and I was promised I would not be arrested or charged,” Taib said.
He also said that he did what he did for the money.
The son of slain Mombasa drug lord Ibrahim Akasha was attending to customers at his petrol station near Makupa roundabout on the evening of March 28, 2002, when tragedy struck.
A lone gunman stealthily approached from behind Kamaldin Akasha’s Land Rover Discovery at around 8.30pm and shot him three times at point blank range. The businessman was left bleeding profusely.
An attendant at the station, Amani Safari, panicked and hid at the sound of gunshot, but caught a glimpse of the attacker, whom he would later describe as white and slender.
Another witness, Daniel Kiarie Mwangi, said he was walking towards the petrol station when he saw a green Toyota AE100 being driven next to the pavement and shouted to the driver: “do you want to hit me?”.
Kiarie then saw the attacker, dressed in a black T-shirt and a woollen hood, running towards the get-away vehicle. The assailant put his gun in a polythene paper bag before entering into the vehicle. Kamaldin’s two brothers—Hassan and Baktash—went to the scene and publicly claimed that their step-brother Nuri alias Tinta was responsible for the shooting.
Kamaldin and Hassan are the late Akasha’s son by his first wife Karim, whom he had divorced. Nuri is the son of Hayat, the second wife while Baktash is the son of Fatuma, the third wife.
Interestingly, Nuri was the chairman of the committee tasked with distribution of the estate of the late Akasha, whose gangland execution in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 3, 2000 triggered acrimony among the members of family.
Some aggrieved family members had accused Hayat and Fatuma of having withdrawn an unspecified amount of money from the family trust fund without their consent before assets distribution was concluded.
At the heart of the contest was a foreign bank account with substantial cash that was allegedly controlled by the late Akasha and Kamaldin. Kamaldin was taken to Makupa Nursing Home where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The body was transferred to Pandya Memorial Hospital for a post-mortem examination. Pathologist Nashon Chandaria, who conducted the autopsy, said Kamaldin died after massive internal bleeding from gunshot wounds. He was buried at the family’s Shanzu residence.
The police arrested all the Akasha sons and recorded their statements after which they confiscated Nuri’s firearm. It was, however, returned to him after ballistic experts confirmed that it was not the killer weapon. After investigations, businessman Ahmed Omar Abdullahi was charged with the murder of Kamaldin on April 9, 2003.
His trial started on May 5, the same year, with the prosecution lining up 12 witnesses. The then Attorney General terminated the case on February 21, 2005, to facilitate the trial of two other men alleged to have been involved in Kamaldin’s murder.
Yugoslavian Stojananovic Milan and Kenyan Jackson Ng’ang’a Waweru had been arrested at the lobby of Nairobi’s Grand Regency Hotel—which has since been renamed Laico Regency— on November 12, 2004. Milan was a close friend and business associate of the late Ibrahim Akasha. He was also a frequent visitor to his Shanzu residence.
The prosecution called 26 witnesses in support of its case, which dealt mainly with the family’s alleged involvement illicit drugs trade, and subsequent fall-out between the late Akasha and his cronies. But then Senior Counsel Githu Muigai, who represented Milan and Waweru, dismissed the case as a sham.
Githu, now the Attorney General, argued that out of the 12 witnesses who had testified in the initial abortive Abdullahi’s trial, none of them adversely mentioned Milan and Waweru. He protested before High Court judge Nicholas Ombija that the fresh trial was “a massive cover-up” by the police who had allowed the real murderers walk scot-free.
In his judgment delivered on February 2, 2007, Justice Ombija held that the prosecution case against Milan and Waweru was purely anchored on circumstantial evidence.
The judge said the prosecution intended to prove there was drug business relationship between Milan and Waweru on the one hand, and the late Akasha and Kamaldin on the other. However, Justice Ombija observed that Milan had left Kenya via Moi International Airport on March 27, 2002, a day before Kamaldin was killed.
“Hence, he could not be the gunman described by eye witnesses,” he said. The judge said the evidence presented by prosecution witnesses was “contradictory, worthless and discredited”.
“The evidence adduced by the prosecution to that extent does not satisfy the legal requirements of circumstantial evidence to put Milan and Waweru on their defence.” The judge also took issue with the police for failure to summon a crucial witness to the identification parade, yet he was at the crime scene.
“Those omissions are so material and beg so many questions. To my mind, it lends credence to the assertion by the defence that there was a massive cover-up by the police and that the three accused persons are merely scape-goats.
In my judgment, the real killers of the deceased are out there,” the judge concluded. However, questions remain; Who was the mastermind of Kamaldin’s murder. What was the motive behind the killing.
MORE FAMILY CONTROVERSY
Tragedy and controversy appear to follow the Akasha family, ten years after its patriarch, the notorious drug baron Ibrahim Akasha was assassinated in the Netherlands.
Akasha’s daughter-in-law, Suad Baktash, who was reported to have committed suicide early this month, is now the subject of a police investigation after some family members reported of suspected foul play in her death.
Suad, who was from the Ukraine and a mother of three, was the second wife of Baktash Akasha. Police sources said her body shall be exhumed on Wednesday for further examination to establish the cause of her death.
Baktash Akasha, son of the slain drug baron Ibrahim Akasha, in a pensive mood recently. One of his wives Suad Baktash was found hanging dead in a bathroom of their Nyali residence recently under mysterious circumstances.
“I have received a letter from the pathologist to conduct the exhumation at the burial site at Guraya,” the source confirmed.
Family members claimed Suad’s neck was broken and rested on her chest, raising doubts on the suicide theory propounded by other family members. The death took place early this month and she was buried immediately, in keeping with the Muslim tradition.
“The bruises on the neck indicated struggle. We were not convinced this was suicide,” a family member said on condition of anonymity.
According to family sources, Suad was expecting a huge consignment of drugs just before her death, raising suspicions she may have been eliminated to allow someone to step in and grab the contraband. After all, double dealing is the hallmark of drug trade.
The incident has shocked the local Mombasa residents, coming so soon after the cold-blood killing of a senior security intelligence officer who was shot nine times at Bondeni. His car was blocked before the shooting. Nothing was stolen.
Police sources said investigating officers were greeted with hostility from the Akasha family.
The officers who arrived at the scene were forced to use their guns to disperse family members opposed to them taking pictures at the scene of crime, would not hear a thing about police taking the body for further examination.
The Standard team investigating Suad’s death was also greeted with hostility. Several vehicles bearing no registration drove into the Akasha home in the upmarket Nyali, as their occupants spoke incessantly on their mobile phones.
The guards manning the gate asked the Press to leave immediately. Deputy Coast police chief, Henry Barmao said police would conduct investigations into the incident. So far, no suspects have been arrested.
END OF AN EMPIRE ??
On the evening in 2014, a handful of policemen in Kenya’s sweltering port city of Mombasa were handpicked to help in the final stages of a U.S.-led drugs sting that spanned three continents.
The target was a mansion in the wealthy beach suburb of Nyali. The policemen were banned from using their mobile phones and the names of the men they wanted were kept from them until two hours before the raid. Secrecy was deemed vital in a region known for its corruption.
The quarry that night were the alleged leaders of the “Akasha organization.” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had spent years infiltrating Akasha and alleges that the gang is part of a heroin supply chain that stretches from the poppy fields of Afghanistan through east Africa to the cities of Europe and the United States.
Inside a mansion girded by palm trees and a two-meter cobblestone wall, police captured the alleged leader of the crime syndicate, Baktash Akasha, his brother Ibrahim, and two other men. Kenyan police charged them with trafficking narcotics to the United States. Prosecutors in the United States subsequently indicted all four on charges including conspiracy to import heroin.
In documents filed in a court in the Southern District of New York on Nov. 10, the U.S. prosecutors alleged that the Akasha organization was responsible for the “production and distribution” of large quantities of narcotics in Kenya, Africa and beyond.
All the men deny the Kenyan charges and are fighting a U.S. request to have them extradited. Instead, they want their case heard in Kenya.
The raid was part of a wider effort by the DEA and Kenya to counter the growing power of drug cartels operating in east Africa. But while the raid was a success, the story of the operation highlights the many hurdles to slowing drug flows: corruption, porous land borders, poor maritime surveillance and a weak judiciary.
The operation, revealed in court documents and interviews, came at a crucial time. Law enforcement agencies are worried that a record opium harvest in Afghanistan will flood global heroin markets this year. The United Nations reported Afghan opium cultivation rose 7 percent in 2014. Western drug agencies are worried this will grow further following the withdrawal of all British and many American troops from Afghanistan.
Western officials are concerned that increased drug trafficking in east Africa could destabilize the region. They fear a repeat of what happened on the other side of Africa in Guinea-Bissau, which has been flooded with South American drugs. The United States has called that west African country Africa’s first “narco state.”
Most Europe-bound Afghan heroin still goes through the established “Balkan route” via Iran and southeast Europe. But a spate of seizures along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastline over the past few years points to a switch to a “southern route” via Africa.
Short of funds and anti-trafficking expertise, east African countries rely on the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) to go after drug traffickers. While the 30-nation naval force was set up to protect busy shipping lanes from Somali pirates, it is intercepting more and more drug deliveries. Last year it seized 3.4 tonnes of heroin, a 66 percent increase on 2013.
To help, Western law enforcement agencies are stepping up operations in east Africa and countries closer to Afghanistan. The DEA says it plans to re-open its office in Karachi, Pakistan, to work with DEA agents in Nairobi and with Pakistani authorities.
Britain, which estimates it is the destination for about 20 percent of the heroin shipped through east Africa, has also stepped up its presence in the region.
“Now it is not just about us here in Kenya,” Hamisi Masa, the head of Kenya’s elite Anti-Narcotics Unit, told Reuters. “The whole world is concerned.”
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, Western diplomats allege.
In the 1990s, the clan was led by Baktash’s father Ibrahim. U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks describe Ibrahim Akasha as a drug baron. “The Akasha family long controlled drugs (then mostly hashish, heroin, cannabis) along Mombasa to Europe,” said a cable dated Jan. 9, 2006.
In 2000, Ibrahim Akasha was killed in a drive-by shooting in Amsterdam’s Red Light district, according to the cables. That dented the business and split the family. Baktash and his half-brother Nurdin, better known as Tinta, Ibrahim’s son with another of his wives, accused each other of murder plots against the family.
Tinta could not be reached for comment.
The DEA had been monitoring the Akashas for years, according to Cliff Ombeta, a lawyer representing the Akashas in Kenya.
By 2014, when the agency began the operation to catch the Akashas, Baktash had taken over the family business. A burly man with a receding hairline, he had built close links with major Pakistani heroin traffickers, the DEA alleges.
One such contact, the U.S. indictment states, was Gulam Hussein, also known as the “Old Man.” Hussein had lived on and off in Kenya since 2012. The indictment describes him as “the head of a transportation network that distributes massive quantities of narcotics throughout the Middle East and Africa.”
Another alleged contact was Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman who had spent more than a decade in a Dubai jail for drug trafficking offences. Goswami is married to 1990s Bollywood star Mamta Kulkarni and had built business empires in Zambia and South Africa.
Goswami and Hussein were captured with the Akasha brothers in the Mombasa raid. As well as the heroin charges, U.S. prosecutors have charged the Akashas and Goswami with conspiracy to import methamphetamines, according to the indictment in the New York court.
None of the men have pleaded to the U.S. charges, according to Daniel Arshack, a New York-based lawyer for Goswami. He said he was confident all four men will not be extradited. “We have no reason to believe that the allegations in the U.S. indictment are supported by facts,” he said.
According to U.S. court documents and to Kenyan lawyer Ombeta, who represents not just the Akashas but also Goswami and Hussein, the DEA sting started in March last year.
Ombeta told Reuters the sting against his clients amounted to entrapment.
An undercover DEA source posing as a member of a Colombian drugs cartel was introduced to Baktash by a friend of the Akashas. The friend “was also a DEA agent,” Ombeta said.
The DEA would not discuss details of its operatives or informants. Ombeta said the man pretending to work for the Colombians was a Moroccan national who had been jailed for a drug trafficking offense in the United States. Peppering his conversation with talk of a private jet and ambitious business plans, the man cultivated an image of opulence, Ombeta said.
Soon after their first meeting, the Moroccan man gave 3 million Kenyan shillings ($32,870) in cash to the Akashas as a goodwill gesture, Ombeta said. “He was flashing money so they could see this was someone who has money and is ready to buy.”
The Moroccan man told Baktash Akasha that the Colombians wanted to buy high-quality heroin to sell in the United States, according to prosecutors. In one of many conversations recorded by the DEA, Baktash allegedly said that he could get them unlimited amounts of “white crystal,” a reference to pure heroin.
Weeks later, Baktash allegedly told one of his Pakistani suppliers that the Colombians wanted 500 kg (1,100 lb) of “carat diamond,” a reference to high quality heroin.
The supplier replied the heroin would cost them about $12,000 per kg and said that he had 420 kg of pure heroin.
As the DEA source was negotiating with the Akashas, the CMF naval force made a series of seizures in Indian Ocean waters off Kenya, Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar. The U.S. extradition document links at least one of these shipments to Hussein.
In April 2014, CMF forces boarded a traditional wooden dhow and found a ton of heroin stashed among cement bags. That was roughly equal to all the heroin that 11 east African governments had seized between 1990 and 2009, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Then in July, for the first time ever, Kenya’s navy made a major heroin seizure. Tipped off by a Western agency, it intercepted a rusting vessel that had set off from Pakistan. A week after they towed the ship into port in Mombasa, officials discovered nearly 800 kg of heroin in its diesel tank.
According to a U.S. extradition document, the man responsible for that second shipment was Gulam Hussein. U.S. court documents allege Hussein told undercover DEA sources he had transported “tons of kilograms of heroin by sea.”
Undeterred by the seizure, Hussein, the Akashas and Goswami allegedly set about agreeing a deal on their upcoming shipment.
In mid-September, Baktash told the Moroccan man that a heroin supplier known as “The Sultan” had sent a representative with a one kilogram sample of heroin for the Colombians to test, court documents allege.
The shipment arrived in Kenya in October. Goswami allegedly told the Moroccan that he was working with Baktash to get another 500 kg.
As the sting neared its end, the DEA and Kenyan authorities grew worried that word would leak.
Junior officers in the Kenyan police earn less than $200 a month. Such low pay helps fuel corruption, according to Kenyan officials. “Drugs barons have bought some of our officers and this is very sad,” Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa told journalists in December. “We have information that police vehicles and ambulances are being used to transport drugs within (Mombasa) county and the coast region.”
The Mombasa police rejected this claim. It said Marwa’s statement was “shocking” but promised to conduct an internal investigation.
In the days leading up to the raid, Kenya’s Anti-Narcotics Unit (ANU) suddenly transferred nearly 30 police officers, including some of its own men, away from the Mombasa region.
Local media linked the redeployments to the Akasha bust, saying most of the policemen were moved because of corruption fears. Hamisi Masa, the ANU chief, told Kenyan press he was behind the transfers, but called it a “regular” move.
Fearful of possible corruption, the DEA has in the last three years helped set up a special “vetted” unit within the ANU. Officers who want to join the inner circle have to pass extra checks including polygraph tests. Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) carries out similar vetting and due diligence checks with local security officials. It is also beefing up its Kenya team.
In early November, Baktash’s brother Ibrahim allegedly delivered 98 kg of heroin to the man from the Colombian cartel in Nairobi, unaware that the DEA was clandestinely recording their meetings. A couple of days later, he allegedly delivered 1 kg of methamphetamines.
Soon after, Ibrahim left Nairobi on a commercial flight to Mombasa, and the DEA and ANU made their move.
ANU officers handpicked several regular policemen to provide back-up and then hid in a mansion opposite the Akasha home. At about 1.30 am on Nov. 10, they launched their raid, arresting the men and confiscating laptops, tablets, mobile phones and cars.
“There was no resistance … just shock that they had been caught completely unaware,” said one member of the Anti-Narcotics Unit.
Ombeta, the Kenyan lawyer representing the four men, said Baktash has told him that he suspects his estranged brother Tinta collaborated with the DEA.
The four men have also told their lawyer that their initial mistrust of the Moroccan man had receded as he splashed more and more cash around.
The men deny any involvement in drug trafficking, Ombeta said, but were tempted by the sight of all that money.
“They were taken over by greed,” Ombeta said.
When Mombasa drug baron Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla was shot dead in the Red Light District streets of Amsterdam in May 2000, many thought that was the end of his drug trafficking empire in East Africa.
Fourteen years later, it has emerged that Baktash, one of Akasha’s favourite sons, ably wore his father’s shoes and carried the mantle with zeal. US authorities describe him as a leading drug baron with international networks.
Just before the elder drug lord was shot dead, Baktash and his half brother Kamaldin, another of Akasha’s favourite sons, were in police custody for trafficking hashish worth Sh940 million.
With Baktash’s recent arrest, questions are now arising over what will happen to the family. Following Akasha’s assassination in 2000, allegedly by foreign merceneries, his family descended into feuds over his multi-billion shillings empire. This feud led to the death of Kamaldin, who was shot dead in a petrol station in Makupa, Mombasa.
The Akasha empire allegedly includes gold and copper mines in Zambia and Sudan as well as extensive investments in real estate and transport in Kenya, Sudan and Lebanon.
The slain drug baron had three wives, the first being Karima, whose children were Habab, Kamaldin and Hassan. Habab was jailed for 10 years by a Tanzanian court after he was found guilty of being in possession of mandrax in 1997. He was later released under unclear circumstances.
Akasha’s second wife Hayat bore him Najma Bazuna, Nurdin Nurdin ‘Tinta’, Durzia, Feisal and Abdalla.
Baktash’s mother Fatuma was Akasha’s third wife. She is also the mother of Warda and Ibrahim.
Following Baktash’s arrest and possible extradition to the US, analysts believe that another of Akasha’s son will fill his shoes just as he allegedly did following his father’s death.
But even before his father’s death, Baktash was a popular figure in criminal circles. He was Akasha’s bodyguard and was said to have been involved in the beatings of his late father’s perceived enemies and prying journalists.
The ill tempered Baktash, like his father, has been embroiled in many cases ranging from violence and suspected drug trade. He is still under investigation for the murder of his wife Suad Akasha, as he faces extradition to the US for attempting to import heroin to that country.
US OPERATION LEADING TO ARREST
An elaborate and dramatic sting operation by US anti-narcotics agents posing as Colombian drug dealers led to the arrest of four suspects and the busting of an alleged Kenya-based international drugs cartel early this month.
Court documents filed by prosecutors in New York this week reveal that the operation took months as detectives tracked the gang.
The documents from the Southern District court show that Kenyan Baktash Akasha Abdalla, the alleged head of the drug-smuggling organisation, and his brother Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, conspired to ship at least 98 kilogrammes of high-grade heroin and methamphetamine to the US through Kenya.
“The Akasha Organisation has engaged in, among other things, the production and distribution of ton quantity of narcotics within Kenya and throughout Africa. Moreover the Akasha Organisation’s distribution network extends beyond the African continent and includes the distribution of narcotics for importation into the United States,” says the indictment.
The Akashas are the sons of Ibrahim Abdalla Akasha, a notorious wealthy Kenyan drug kingpin shot dead by a gunman on a motorcycle in Amsterdam 14 years ago.
The senior Akasha had fled Kenya after being linked to a shipment of several tonnes of hashish seized by the authorities.
The sons of the slain drug baron and two associates were arrested last week and arraigned before Mombasa Chief Magistrate Maxwell Gicheru.
They will remain in custody for at least 17 days as the process of extraditing them to the US continues, the court ruled on Friday.
Last Monday, the Kenyan magistrate was told a New York court had issued warrants of arrest against the suspects.
In intriguing details traced back to March this year, the Akasha brothers allegedly met in Nairobi and Mombasa with individuals who they believed were members of a drug cartel based in Colombia — but were in actual sense American undercover agents — that would arrange for the heroin to be brought to the US, the federal indictment filed in New York on November 10 indicates.
Ibrahim is said to have personally delivered 98 kilogrammes of heroin and methamphetamine to the supposed Colombian operatives on November 7, the US prosecutors charge.
According to the American National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine — also called meth, crystal, chalk and ice, among other terms — is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine.
It takes the form of a white, odourless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder.
The brothers were supposedly lured by the “buyers” into believing that they were about to strike it big and even suggested plans to set up an illicit narcotics factory in West Africa.
20-YEAR JAIL SENTENCE
The detectives pursuing the Akashas at one point even allegedly paid more than $65,000 (Sh5.8 million) during a meeting in Nairobi to help the suspects facilitate the movement of drugs from Pakistan to Mombasa, for onward shipment to the US.
But the presumed representatives of the “Colombian Organisation” were actually confidential sources working under the supervision of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
The indictment in the US federal court claims the heroin was to be transported through an international network headed by Gulam Hussein, alias “Old Man”, a Pakistani national. Hussein, who was arrested in Mombasa on November 11 along with the Akashas and another alleged conspirator, is accused by US law enforcement personnel to be a distributor of “massive quantities of narcotics throughout the Middle East and Africa”.
Vijaygiri Anandgiri Goswami, alias “Vicky Goswami”, is the fourth person arrested by Kenyan authorities.
An India national, Goswami is described in the US indictment as a long-time associate of Hussein and as manager of the “Akasha Organisation” narcotics business, “including the procurement and distribution of heroin and the production and distribution of methamphetamine”.
The four individuals are to be formally arraigned in New York on four counts of US narcotics law violations once they are extradited from Kenya.
If convicted on all charges, the Akasha brothers and their two alleged associates face jail sentences of more than 20 years each in US prisons.
100 PER CENT PURE
The indictment recounts an eight-month-long series of meetings and telephone conversations involving the accused members of the “Akasha Organisation” and the US undercover agents.
The face-to-face discussions were video-taped and audio-taped, and the phone calls were also recorded, prosecutors say.
In the indictment’s account of these talks, the 98kg of heroin is referred to as “chickens” while a 420kg quantity of the drug said to be potentially available from sources in Pakistan is termed “carat diamond” or “white crystal” because it is “100 per cent pure”.
Baktash emphasised at one point, the indictment alleges, that the heroin had to be of “the highest quality because [a presumed Colombian trafficker] was taking the ‘diamond’ to America”.
These code words for heroin were allegedly used even though Baktash allegedly told a disguised US agent in March that a company in Europe provides mobile phones “so secure you can say ‘hashish’ and ‘crystal’ over the telephone without worrying about being intercepted by American or Israeli intelligence”.
The heroin to be shipped to Kenya and on to the US would come from a supplier known as “The Sultan”, Baktash allegedly indicated to one of the secret US agents in September.
Goswami added, according to the indictment, that “The Sultan” was the number one supplier of white heroin in the world.
In August, Baktash purportedly told one of the US undercover agents that the heroin shipments were delayed due to “religious holidays and rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the summer”, the indictment says.
It adds that Goswami related to one of the purported traffickers that a large amount of heroin could be delivered to the “Colombian Organisation” at an airstrip in an unnamed country bordering Kenya.
The price of heroin delivered in Africa ranged from $12,000 (Sh1 million) to $14,000 (Sh1.2 million) a kilogramme, Baktash is said to have told an undercover agent in March.
But if the supposed Colombian traffickers paid “up front,” the indictment states, they would be given a discount that would bring the per-kilo price of heroin down to $9,000 (Sh810,000) to $10,000 (Sh900,000).
The final price was apparently set at about $11,000 (Sh990,000) a kilo.
That calculation is based on a text message Goswami is alleged to have sent to an undercover US agent on November 7 — two days prior to the arrest of the “Akasha Organisation” figures.
The US indictment says the message provided instructions to the “Colombian Organisation” for payment of $550,000 (Sh49.5 million) for half of the 98kg of heroin allegedly being provided by the “Akasha Organisation”.
The prosecutors also accuse the Akasha brothers and their associates of conspiring to ship methamphetamines to America. Ibrahim is alleged to have delivered a one-kilo sample of that drug to an individual in Nairobi in September.
Three months earlier, the indictment indicates, Goswami reportedly told a US secret agent that he was interested in helping the “Colombian Organisation” establish methamphetamine laboratories in West Africa.
The drug could also be produced in East Africa, Goswami is supposed to have suggested.
On October 22 — two and a half weeks prior to the arrest of the four suspects — Baktash allegedly told one of the disguised US operatives that Hussein had “big dreams for their business together”.
The charges reflect smugglers’ growing reliance on East Africa as a narcotics transport hub. Conflicts in the Middle East and western Asia have made it more difficult for drug traffickers to use established routes, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Heroin is often clandestinely transported to East Africa on dhows sailing from the coast of Iran and Pakistan, the UN agency says.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Esat Africa office, there is growing trafficking of heroin, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants into and through Eastern Africa.
The international airports in Nairobi, Kenya, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are key entry points for illicit drugs into the region, primarily due to the frequent commercial flights from Asia and the Middle East, says UNODC.
The seaports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa are also entry points favoured by drug traffickers.
The Akasha sons and their associates were extradited in 2017, they remain in US federal jail.