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.