Tuesday, June 28, 2011

US targeted Mwau over Sh6b drugs

Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) in the US Department of Treasury, Adam Szubin addresses journalists during a video conference at the embassy in Nairobi on June 28, 2011.

Photo/PHOEBE OKALL/NATION Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) in the US Department of Treasury, Adam Szubin addresses journalists during a video conference at the embassy in Nairobi on June 28, 2011. He said said his government slapped sanctions on Mr Mwau (right) because of a container of cocaine found at Pepe container depot in 2004.  

By NATION TEAM [email protected]

As many as 10 United States government agencies have been watching Kilome MP John Harun Mwau for years and have built a “foolproof” case against him, a US official said on Tuesday.

Mr Adam Szubin, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) in the US Department of Treasury, said his government slapped sanctions on Mr Mwau because of a container of cocaine found at Pepe container depot in 2004.

The US government believes both the depot and the container belong to Mr Mwau.

The administration of President Barack Obama listed Mr Mwau and Naima Mohamed, also known as Mama Leila, as drug kingpins, seizing their property in the US and slapping a range of sanctions against them.

Mr Szubin added that the US is aware of what it called Mr Mwau’s “longstanding reputation” in the trafficking of drugs.

“We view him as among the more powerful and active narcotics traffickers in the region,” he told journalists.

Mr Szubin, whose office is behind the identification and imposition of sanctions against suspected narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act, said Ms Naima was blacklisted because of her position as the “head of one of the largest drug trafficking rings operating in Nairobi”.

He said Mama Leila deals in heroin, cocaine and other prohibited synthetic chemicals and that she had links with courier networks in Europe, South Asia and Africa.

The Ofac boss said that the sanctions against Mr Mwau were “not criminal but civil”, insisting that it was an administrative process in dealing with the billions of dirty money in the US economy.

However, he added, that given the close bilateral ties between Kenya and the US, he expected the Kenyan government to act.

Up to 10 US agencies were involved in collecting evidence against Mr Mwau and Mama Leila “for more than a year and in some cases several years” and that the evidence they had gathered was foolproof.

“It’s not a quick or short process. We build a case slowly and carefully to ensure that it is soundly built,” he said, revealing that the US Department of Treasury had a “top-level package, many inches thick” linking the duo to drug trafficking.

“They have been under consideration for years as we built a stronger and stronger case against them”.

Much of this evidence, he said, was obtained from open source reporting, intelligence files and from law enforcement agencies like the police, Interpol and the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

He said the evidence had been sieved by lawyers of the US Treasury and found to be watertight.

“We do not rely on rumours or press reporting that is uncorroborated,” said Mr Szubin, terming the process as “meticulous, deliberate and very fair”.

Assets frozen

He said that before the duo was named, the US Government was engaged with the government of Kenya at very high levels, because, apparently the US enjoys “extremely close relations” with Kenya.

The departments likely to have informed Kenya’s government, Mr Szubin said, were the DEA, the State Department or the Department of Justice.

Under US law, being named as a key player in trafficking narcotics means that the named person is prohibited from doing business or moving money through the US.

Besides the person’s assets within the jurisdiction of the US are also frozen or blocked, but the US does not access the accounts or take the money.

The Ofac boss said those to be named in the list are never given an advance warning, because they’ll go into full-flight to empty their accounts and transfer their property to proxies.

“The amount of money involved is not the kind of money that they can put under a mattress,” said Mr Szubin.

Firms dealing with those named are also notified and given an ultimatum to stop dealing with the named person in any kind of trade.

Individuals too with debts to the listed persons are warned and transactions, even to pay the debts through the US banks or financial outlets, are blocked.

Mr Mwau has protested his innocence against the charges levelled against him and has already expressed fear for his life, saying he was being pursued and trailed by US vehicles within Nairobi.

On Thursday night, his vehicle was sprayed with bullets by unknown gunmen. Police are investigating the incident.

But even with the strong evidence against Mr Mwau and Ms Naima – who was arrested earlier this month in Tanzania with five kilos of cocaine —Mr Szubin said they can still wriggle out of the list of drug kingpins if they petition the US Treasury or if they go to a US court seeking to have their names deleted from the list.

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