Kenya was an integral part of global crime ‘Smack Track’

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on Wednesday, 21 August 2019 12:45
(L-R) Baktash Akasha, Gulam Hussein, Ibrahim Akasha and Vijaygiri Goswami are briefed by their lawyer Cliff Ombeta at Mombasa Law Courts during a court appearance on drug-related charges in Mombasa February 17, 2015. Picture taken February 17, 2015. To match Special Report KENYA-DRUGS/ REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

The sentencing of a Kenyan drug lord in New York has laid bare the extent of transnational crime links.

Baktash Akasha Abdalla (42), who took over his father’s criminal empire after the former’s murder in Amsterdam in 2000, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for “narcotics, weapons, and obstruction offences,” according to a 16 August press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, speaking after the sentence was handed down, said, “Akasha was once one of the world’s most prolific and violent drug traffickers, but today’s significant sentence of 25 years in prison all but guarantees he will never profit from the illicit drug trade again.” Baktash Akasha was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.

Others under arrest:

  • Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, his younger brother and who “functioned” as his deputy in the “Akasha Organisation”, will be sentenced on 8 November 2019.
  • Vijayghiri “Vicky” Goswami turned state witness and testified against the Akasha brothers.
  • Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national, and key member of the organisation.
  • Muhammad Asif Hafeez (known as “Sultan”) who helped the brothers establish a methamphetamine-production facility in Mozambique was arrested in London in August 2017 and awaits extradition to the USA.

The Akasha brother, Goswami, and Hussein were arrested in Kenya in November 2014 shortly after they supplied 99kgs of heroin and two kgs of methamphetamine to associates they thought were opening a new route to the United States, but who were, in fact, DEA confidential informants.

  • The Akasha brothers pled guilty to drug importation conspiracy but denied participating in acts of brutal violence and of operating on such a massive scale.
  • Goswami (56), an Indian national, turned state witness and laid bare his criminal activities, stretching back to 1993 and spanning several countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Before he moved to Kenya in 2013, he had spent 15 years of a life sentence in a Dubai prison for dealing in mandrax, a banned recreational sedative-hypnotic drug.

Indictment of Kenyan law enforcement

The sentencing of the members of the Akasha Organisation in the United States is an indictment of the Kenyan law enforcement and legal systems, which had failed to convict the father of drug-related charges in the mid-1990s.

The US Attorney General’s filings include several claims of corruption, theft, and collusion that not only protected the Akashas but also even provided them with precursor chemicals for illicit drugs.

  • Goswami testified Ibrahim was bribing government employees to provide him with ephedrine used in making methamphetamine. They also invited a Chinese abba pharmaceutical supplier called Martin Hong to Kenya, entertaining him at tourist attractions to persuade him to work with them.
  • In early 2013, according to Goswami’s testimony, the Akasha brothers were pilfering tons of mandrax precursor chemicals “after they bribed the officials responsible for the stockpile.”
  • As they fought extradition, they bribed Kenyan officials-including judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to stall the case. They were eventually extradited on 29 January 2017.

Transnational links

The convictions also outline just how pervasive transnational crime links are, intersecting the worlds of illegal drugs, theft, terrorism, and bribery. In the months before the arrest in 2014, Baktash and his associates kidnapped a rival drug trafficker, had an altercation with a politician in Nairobi, and organised the murder of a drug trafficker in South Africa.

  • Goswami confessed that Ibrahim had told him that whenever he was in South Africa making mandrax deliveries, he would purchase stolen cars for sale in Kenya.
  • The Akashas also imported methaqualone precursor chemicals to produce pills in South Africa, where mandrax is still one of the most widely abused drugs.
  • Baktash is also said to have boasted about organising the revenge killing of his father’s assassin in Amsterdam. Nearly everyone involved in the debt dispute that led to the elder Akasha’s murder in 2000 was executed gangland-style in the ensuing years.

Other than South Africa, the Akashas invested in a mandrax operation in Zimbabwe, worked with heroin traffickers in Tanzania, and bought weapons from the Al Shabaab terror group. The US government’s case also mentioned that the traffickers met the Ugandan president’s sister-in-law “to discuss methods of illegally importing ephedrine into Uganda.” It is reputed she agreed to provide a license in exchange for a percentage of the profits.

  • While out on bail, the Akashas tried to import ephedrine from a firm in India, as part of their preparations to manufacture methamphetamine in Mozambique.

Their suspected heroin supplier in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Mohammed Asif Hafeez, known as “Sultan”, was arrested in London in August 2017. Hafeez, a Pakistani national, was a familiar site in London’s polo circuit and owns a £5-million home in Berkshire.

“At the time of the provisional arrests in Kenya, 500 kilograms of heroin brokered by Hafeez were being transported through international waters to the defendants in Africa,” the US AG’s statement in the Akasha case says.

  • The US has requested his extradition.

Big names involved in the “Smack Track”

A major side-story in the Akasha case is the involvement and possible indictment of several top Kenyan politicians and businessmen, although their extradition seems unlikely. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) opened an office in Nairobi in 2011, a year after the then Interior Security minister listed several top politicians who were under investigation for drug trafficking.

  • “The Akashas were an easy target because they failed to bankroll politics and, therefore, fell out of favour with power brokers. Kenya wouldn’t have surrendered the Akashas to America had they been controlling political power,” claims Ken Opalo, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, writing in the Daily Nation in April.
  • The DEA Nairobi office is now one of nine of the continent, after the agency opened a new office in Tanzania in August 2019.
  • The focus on Africa is due to its growing status as the “Smack Track”, a circuitous route used by South American and Southwest Asian drug traffickers to access African, European and American drug markets. They also use it to ship in precursor chemicals to Central America, and the drug threat includes “ viable concerns about the extent of the narco-terrorism threat in western, eastern and northern Africa”, according to the DEA.

Bottom Line: The Akasha case shows not just the extent of transnational crime links, especially on the African continent, but also how those links intersect with local politics and economies. Without decisive action on drug smuggling networks, countries such as Kenya cannot win the war on related crimes such as gun running, car theft, and terrorism.

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