In New York
The long-running saga of the Akasha brothers came to a close on Friday when Kenyan confessed drug trafficker Ibrahim Akasha was hit with an unexpectedly severe 23-year prison sentence.
His visibly stunned defence attorney, Dawn Cardi, called the punishment “outrageous and totally unwarranted” following the two-hour session in a New York courtroom.
Ms Cardi had urged presiding Judge Victor Marrero to impose a 10-year sentence rather than the 25-year term meted out to the elder Akasha brother, Baktash, in August.
US prosecutors had sought sentences of life imprisonment for both brothers. The terms given to the Akashas nonetheless stand as a victory for the US Justice Department.
Ibrahim was merely an assistant to Baktash, Ms Cardi maintained on Friday, describing the older Akasha brother as the ringleader and mastermind of the smuggling network.
The defence lawyer pointed out that Ibrahim was just 10 years old when his father was shot dead in Amsterdam, leaving Baktash in charge of the Akasha drug network.
Ms Cardi further characterised Ibrahim's role as merely that of a “chauffeur and delivery man.”
The attorney noted that Shahbaz Khan, a Pakistani drug trafficker who sought to smuggle thousands of kilograms of heroin into the US, had received only a 15-year sentence last November in the same federal district court in New York.
Ibrahim and Baktash Akasha pleaded guilty in October 2018 to charges of conspiring to ship 99 kilograms of heroin into the United States.
None of that heroin actually reached the US, Ms Cardi pointed out on Friday. She said her client had been snared in a sting operation orchestrated by US government narcotics agents.
Ibrahim, 31, showed no reaction upon hearing the length of a prison term that must have come as a shock to him.
Shackled at the ankles and wearing a beige prison shirt, Ibrahim had earlier expressed remorse in a barely audible voice.
“I would like to take the time to apologise to the families who were destroyed due to my dealings in drugs,” he said.
Ibrahim pleaded with Judge Marrero to show “mercy” so he could return to his three children in Mombasa.
But he will likely not see his children until he is deported from the US — which will probably not occur before 2037. That is the earliest date Ibrahim could be released from prison in the US, even with credit for the three years he has already served in detention in the US and with a maximum reduction of sentence for good behaviour.
US government assistant prosecutor Jason Richman focused on the “staggering” quantity of heroin the Akasha brothers had planned to ship to the United States.
The prosecutor also urged the judge to consider alleged plans by the so-called Akasha Organisation to expand its narcotics smuggling operation. Mr Richman said the brothers intended to flood the US with heroin and methamphetamine, thereby worsening the country's “drug epidemic.”
The prosecutor dismissed Ms Cardi's contention that Ibrahim was incidental to the trafficking conspiracy. Mr Richman said he had acted as Baktash’s “right-hand man” and had “engaged in extreme violence.”
The younger Akasha brother was “not an errand-boy on a Kenyan street corner selling a dime bag of marijuana,” Mr Richman said, using slang for $10 worth of a drug far less potent than heroin.
The US government attorney further mocked defence attorney Cardi's depiction of Ibrahim as a junior member of a drug-trafficking family who had no choice but to play his assigned role in Kenya's patriarchal culture.
“This is almost offensive to people who also grew up in that country and that culture and didn’t make those choices,” Mr Richman said.
Judge Marrero, 78, mostly read from prepared scripts during the proceeding and did not interrupt the lawyers’ presentations. In the end, he sided with the prosecution’s interpretation, commenting that while Ibrahim may have played a lesser role, he "by no means was coerced and was a more than willing participant."
Among the crimes to which the Akashas confessed was obstruction of justice — an offence covering the systematic bribes the brothers had paid to Kenyan judges, prosecutors, police officers and politicians in an attempt to prevent their extradition to the US.
The Kenyan recipients of those bribes have not been named in any of the US court proceedings against the Akashas.
The surprisingly long sentence handed to Ibrahim likely reflected Judge Marrero's consideration of a murder attributed to the brother but with which they had not been formally charged.
In earlier submissions to the court, US prosecutors had urged the judge to “consider the full context of the Akashas' crimes” in determining how much prison time to impose.
The US government attorneys emphasised the Akashas' alleged plot to kill a South African drug gangster identified in court only as “Pinky.” Prosecutors did not file a murder charge against the brothers but in court documents recounted their alleged involvement in the 2014 killing in South Africa.
Ms Cardi argued on Friday that the murder of Pinky came in revenge for a plot against Baktash, not Ibrahim, indicating that the younger brother had played a lesser role.
The Akashas had pleaded guilty more than a year ago likely because the prosecution had assembled a seemingly irrefutable case against them.
Over an eight-month period, undercover US narcotics agents posing as Colombian drug dealers had taped their conversations with the Akashas and accomplices. In addition to audio recordings, the prosecution could have presented clandestinely-made video tapes of face-to-face meetings involving members of the Akasha group and the disguised US agents.
The defence teams also knew that Vijay Goswami, the 59-year-old manager of the Akashas' drug business, had been “flipped” by US prosecutors during his time in custody in New York.
Goswami, an India national, was indicted in the US along with the Akashas and a Pakistani, Gulam Hussein, also associated with the Kenya-based drug ring.
The outcome of the cases against Goswami and Hussein has not yet been determined.