Asali Bai, 20, came to Kenya in November last year hoping to find a way to support her family back home in Nepal. But when she got here, the young woman, who had been forced to drop out of school while in Year Seven when her ageing parents could no longer pay her school fees, became a sex slave.
Asali is the firstborn in a family of seven. To earn money after dropping out of school, she became a dancer. It was in the course of her work in Nepal that she met an agent who identified himself as Bishal. She told him her problems and he offered her a way out: How about a job in Kenya?
“(Bishal) told me he knew a person who was looking for an artiste. I got interested,” she says. “He connected me to a Mr Asif.” Within a week of making the connection, Bai had received a passport and an air ticket that would bring her to Mombasa, courtesy of this Asif.
On November 12, she arrived at Moi International Airport. Asif picked her up. He took her to an apartment in Bamburi, allowed her to rest for one day, then had her report to her new job. It would be a dancing gig at a restaurant called New Rangeela Bar in Nyali, and she would be practising a dance called mujra. And then Asif confiscated her passport.
Asali is one of four women who have shared their stories with the police investigating an international human-trafficking syndicate based in Kenya. The girls’ statements illustrate clearly how Kenya, once thought to be merely a transit and collection point for sex and child slaves, is now also a destination.
The New Rangeela club, where the young women performed, is the focus of this investigation. It is owned by Mombasa tycoon Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha — the ‘Asif’ who helped Bai get into the country.
Jetha is a well-connected tycoon who has been operating the club since at least 2014. Documents seen by the Saturday Nation show that he holds Canadian and United Kingdom passports. According to his Facebook profile, he has allegedly worked with Canada Wide Media, an independent magazine publisher and digital media company.
Jetha, who is married, claims to have studied at Simon Fraser University and Burnaby Central Secondary School, both in British Columbia, Canada.
He is thought to be well-connected to some known businessmen on the Kenyan coast. He also has connections in the security sector, which has complicated his arrest despite his legal transgressions.
He has now been charged with three counts of trafficking, promoting human trafficking and interfering with travel documents through the act of seizing the women’s passports.
The suspect is also accused of allowing the New Rangeela Bar to be used for trafficking purposes.
The club is open only to a few who-is-who, people who can afford the hefty entrance and tip fees. “When you visit the club, the doors are always closed and one has to knock. The guards check you out and if they know you, that’s when you are allowed in,” says a man who has visited the club, but who refused to be named for this story.
Mujra is an erotic dance performed by females in a format that emerged in South Asia. Revellers tip the dancers during the entertainment sessions, and if a reveller is attracted to any of the women, he may pay for a private session with her, say other sources who have also visited the club.
The women are given nicknames and money targets for each night. Their pay ranges from Sh50,000 to Sh80,000 a month. However, they only receive between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 directly.
According to their statements, all the women live together in one apartment in Nyali and are not allowed outside except at night, when they go to the club, and during one outing a month, which is always chaperoned by one of the club staff.
Sanjita Ale, 26, lived in that apartment for 10 months with 10 other Nepalese women, during which time she was only let out between 9pm and 10pm — when she was driven to the New Rangeela club — then driven back to the apartment at 3am after the club closed. Sanjita knows so little about her surroundings that she cannot locate the Bamburi apartment on her own. “We were not allowed to leave the house unless we were going to work,” she says. “We only had one day off in a month (during which the) boss would accompany us,” she adds. The women were not allowed to use their phones except between the hours of 3pm and 6pm.
Sanjita, whose stage name was Ashiko, says she was given a monthly target of Sh400,000 and a salary of Sh80,000. “On the stage, customers used to give us tips, which were put in a bucket that had the name of each dancer.” Each month, one of Jetha’s workers would extract Sh60,000 to Sh70,000 from her salary to send to her parents.
The story follows much the same script for Ranjita Bik, who also dropped out of school very early due to financial constraints to fend for her family of four. The 30-year-old says that after leaving school, she started dancing and in the process, learnt that Kenya offered opportunities and great packages for people like her. “My friend connected me to a person by the name Asif, who interviewed me (by) phone. I asked him for a one-month salary advance. He bought me a plane ticket and sent me Sh80,000 to settle bank loans and buy clothes,” she said.
Ranjita flew into the country in August last year via Moi International Airport in Mombasa. At the airport, she found Jetha and his driver waiting for her, upon which she was driven to the apartment in Bamburi where she handed over her passport to Jetha. “At the apartment, I found about eight Nepalese (women). The same evening at around 9pm, we were picked up by a vehicle and dropped off at the club.”
Ranjita also testifies to the women’s movements being severely restricted. They were not allowed to go anywhere or leave the building on their own. They could only be picked up from and dropped off at the club.
All their expenses were paid for by the boss. A woman only identified as Mary kept their phones away from them most of the time, especially at night.
“While at work, we all had buckets labelled with our names. The waiters used to take the buckets to the customers,” she says. Everyone had their own target. “Mine was Sh400,000,” she says. Sometimes they would receive the money directly from the customers, but most of the time, the money would be put in the bucket. With a monthly salary of Sh80,000, Ranjita says she would only take between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 — the rest would be sent to her parents back in Nepal.
All was going well until the night of April 13 this year, when detectives raided the club at around 3am. “The police came when I was on stage dancing. They introduced themselves then instructed us to sit down. They took some photos then escorted us to the police station, where I was requested to record a statement,” she said.
Another woman, Sanju Gurung, who is married, said she was informed of a promising dancing job in Kenya by her friend who had once worked in the country. “I decided to try my luck since poverty pushed me out of school. (My husband had) married me as soon as I dropped out of school. He is a mason so I needed more money to make our future bright,” she says.
She was connected to her would-be employer Jetha, who, after a telephone interview, offered her the job. Before she flew to Kenya, he sent her a salary advance of Sh60,000.
Just like her colleagues, upon arriving, her passport was taken away and she was confined to the Bamburi apartment along with 11 others.
“Apart from going to work, (for) which we are picked up and dropped off and brought back, we were not allowed to leave the apartment,” she says. “The other time we left the house we were accompanied by our boss, who ensured we are back in the apartment (sic).”
She adds that out of her total salary of Sh60,000, her boss told her he would send Sh50,000 or Sh55,000 directly to her husband in Nepal.
“I used to be paid between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000 every month. My boss would channel the rest of the money to my husband directly through his account,” she said.
The four are among 12 Nepalese women arrested that April night when detectives stormed the bar in what was described as a breakthrough in scuttling an international human-trafficking ring. The women are expected to be deported back to their country by the end of this month.
According to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations, sexual exploitation and forced labour were among the leading causes of human trafficking.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation accounted for 50 per cent of people trafficked, while forced labour was at 49 per cent, with one per cent trafficked for other unspecified purposes. The majority of the victims are women and children. The report further indicates that the overall number of reported trafficking victims had increased.
“This might mean that more people are being trafficked, but also that national capacities to detect this crime and identify victims are improving in some countries. Increases in trafficking convictions have also been recorded in Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. Kenya passed the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2010.
According to a 2018 US State Department report, Kenya is yet to meet the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. The country has also been mapped as a source, destination and transit point for trafficking.
Paul Adhoch, the executive director of anti-people-trafficking NGO Trace Kenya, says a lack of tough rules for foreigners getting into the country has resulted in the increase in trafficking.
Mr Adhoch says well-organised individuals take advantage of the easy access to sneak people into the country.
“A majority are brought in using tourist visas and temporary travel documents. Since, as a country, we are less interested in knowing what foreigners are coming to do, those people end up in bars and brothels, where they are exploited,” he says. He adds that Kenya and South Africa have become major transit points for human trafficking.
Meanwhile, Jetha is facing a raft of charges after his arrest. One of them states that on September 5, 2013, he obtained Sh800,000 from a Mr Maru Deepak by pretending he could sell him a car. He is also charged with the economic exploitation of two children — one a 16-year-old girl and the other 17 — by making them dancers in an environment (the bar) deemed harmful to their physical, mental and social development.
The businessman is further accused of operating a business in Kenya without a work permit and unlawfully employing foreigners. Prosecutors based their case on the fact that Jetha carries two passports, none of which is Kenyan. They are also questioning his nationality.
The suspect is further accused of employing 12 foreign women as club dancers without getting them the necessary work permits, and whose entry papers do not allow them to work in Kenya.
He has denied the charges, which he is accused of committing between January 1 and March 24 at his Nyali club.
Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has also introduced new charges against the Mombasa tycoon. Jetha now stands charged afresh with the offence of being in possession of proceeds of crime contrary to the law.
The new charge sheet reads that the suspect was found in possession of Sh69,050 and $1,382 (Sh140,000), which he allegedly acquired knowing it was part of the proceeds of crime — human trafficking.
And to cap it all, Jetha has also been charged with tax evasion and failure to file returns by the due date. As a resident of the country and chargeable to tax, and earning taxable income from Rangeela Bar and Restaurant, which all made him eligible to file tax returns, he has defaulted on filing his returns for the past two years.
His case will be mentioned on Friday next week.