Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, the Kenyan brothers held in New York for the past year on drug-trafficking charges, have been newly accused by US prosecutors of bribing Kenyan officials and brandishing guns while carrying out their alleged crimes.
The new allegations are contained in a “superseding indictment” filed last month and cited during the defendants' appearance in a US federal court on Friday.
Attorneys for the Akasha brothers and a co-defendant, Pakistani national Gulam Hussein, pleaded not guilty on Friday to all charges against them.
The three accused men were brought into a New York courtroom in shackles and wearing prison garb.
PLEA DEAL TALKS OVER
US prosecutor Amanda Houle told Presiding Judge Victor Marrero that discussions concerning a possible plea deal “are over.”
Ms Houle's comment implied that prosecutors and lawyers for the three defendants have been unable to agree on a possible reduction in prison time in return for guilty pleas and promises to cooperate with investigators.
Judge Marrero then set October 8 as the tentative starting date for a trial that Ms Houle estimated would run for about three weeks.
A fourth person originally charged in the case — Indian national Vijaygiri Goswami — was not present for the 40-minute court session on Friday, apparently because he has agreed to assist US prosecutors in the case.
Christopher Cassar, an attorney representing Baktash Akasha, told Judge Marrero that Mr Goswami is “cooperating with the [US] government.” Prosecutor Houle said later in Friday's court session that the US “is not going to confirm or deny anything about anyone cooperating in this case.”
Mr Cassar also complained on Friday that he has not received any documents from the Kenyan government in support of the claim that the Akashas were “expelled” from Kenya in January 2017.
In an interview following Friday's proceedings, Mr Cassar said his client was taken from Nairobi to New York ahead of a scheduled extradition hearing in Kenya.
Irbahim Akasha, Mr Hussein and Mr Goswami were flown out of Kenya at the same time.
ARRESTED IN MOMBASA
All four were arrested in Mombasa in November 2014 in a sting operation involving undercover US drug agents.
US prosecutors charged that the four alleged leaders of the so-called Akasha Organisation had conspired to ship 98 kilogrammes of heroin to the US from Kenya.
Defence attorney Cassar told Nation that his client's due-process rights had been violated under the terms of a US-Kenya extradition treaty.
Mr Cassar said he will argue in court in the coming months that Baktash Akasha had been “abducted” from Kenya.
US courts thus have no jurisdiction in this case, the attorney maintained, adding that he will ask that Mr Akasha, a Kenyan citizen, be returned to Kenya.
“I don't believe you can expel a citizen from his country,” Mr Cassar said in the interview.
Judge Marrero will likely rule on that motion in April or May, Mr Cassar said.
AGREED TO PAY BRIBES
In the superseding indictment filed last month, US prosecutors charged that Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha “agreed to pay bribes, and caused others to pay bribes to officials, including law enforcement officers, judges and at least one prosecutor in Kenya, in an effort to avoid extradition to the United States.”
The indictment does not name any of the officials whom the Akashas sought to bribe.
“During and in relation to [alleged] drug-trafficking crimes,” the new indictment also charges, the Akashas “did use and carry firearms, which were brandished.”
Mr Hussein, who is said to use the alias “Old Man,” appeared tired and drawn during Friday's hearing as he listened to a translation by an Urdu interpreter.
He requires daily insulin injections for a diabetes condition.
Both Akasha brothers seemed to be in good health and showed no visible signs of depression after nearly one year in New York detention facilities.
Another court session on the status of the case has been set for February 23.