New Delhi: At the very kernel of the Vicky Goswami-Ali Punjani drug bust is the deadly and dangerous Akasha family with strong global links and sinister connections with the underworld and a long history in drug trafficking.
So who are the Akashas? IANS tried to find their background and a lot of it emerged from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report filed in the US District Court, Southern District of New York, in the US vs Baktash Akasha Abdalla case.
Baktash and his brother Faisal have underscored the Akasha name in Kenya by saying — “Whoever comes and wherever they come from, when they say our name, they know we are drug dealers…meaning we work in drugs.” They are the kingpins of what is a global drug cartel.
In continuum with the DEA probe, in mid August this year, a US judge sentenced a leading Kenyan drug trafficker, Baktash Akasha, to 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy to import heroin and methamphetamine and other crimes.
US District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan sentenced Akasha, 42. Prosecutors described Akasha as the leader of a crime syndicate called the ‘Akasha Organisation’, a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and US cities. In his guilty plea, Akasha also admitted to bribing officials in Kenya.
His brother, Ibrahim Akasha, has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge in November.
Baktash Akasha took control of the organisation after his father, Ibrahim Akasha, was killed in a shooting, according to authorities.
The case stemmed from a US Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha Organisation, leading to the extradition of the brothers to the US from Kenya in January 2017 along with Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national charged with heading a drug transportation network, and Vijaygiri ‘Vicky’ Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the organisation’s drug business.
According to the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
AKASHA ABDALLA and his brother, Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, a/k/a “Ibrahim Akasha” (together, “the defendants”) operated a sprawling and lucrative international drug-trafficking organisation, which distributed multi-tonne quantities of narcotics, including hashish, ephedrine, methamphetamine and methaqulone — a Schedule I controlled substance commonly referred to in Europe, South Africa and elsewhere as “Mandrax” or “mandies,” and in the US as “Quaaludes.”
For almost two decades, BAKTASH AKASHA ABDALLA acted as the leader of the Akasha Organisation, and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla functioned as his brother’s deputy. The defendants engaged in acts of violence to protect the reputation of the Akasha Organisation and their drug-trafficking business.
For example, in 2014, the defendants kidnapped and assaulted a rival drug trafficker in Kenya named David Armstrong. The defendants helped orchestrate the murder in South Africa of an associate of Armstrong, who was known as “Pinky” and was shot approximately 32 times in the street. The defendants subsequently participated in an altercation at a public shopping mall in Kenya with an Armstrong associate named Stanley Livondo, during which Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla threatened Livondo with a pistol.
By early 2014, the defendants and other members of the Akasha Organisation started to work to import huge quantities of methaqualone precursor chemicals into Africa in order to fuel the illicit pills’ production in South Africa.
The defendants used the proceeds of their methaqualone-related business to pursue other illegal ventures, including efforts to import ephedrine that was produced illegally by Avon Lifesciences in India, so that the Akasha Organisation and others could manufacture methamphetamine in Africa.
In connection with these methamphetamine-production efforts, the defendants aligned the Akasha Organisation and other associates with co-defendant Muhammad Asif Hafeez, a/k/a “Sultan,” and worked together to establish a methamphetamine-production facility in Mozambique.
But the defendants, Hafeez and other co-conspirators, were forced to abandon their plan after the law enforcement authorities seized approximately 18 tonnes of ephedrine from an Avon Lifesciences factory in Solapur, India, including several tonnes of ephedrine that the defendants and Hafeez planned to use to manufacture methamphetamine in Mozambique.
Over the course of several months beginning March 2014, during telephone calls and meetings in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya, the defendants agreed to supply, and in fact did supply, multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and methamphetamine to individuals they believed to be representatives of a South American drug-trafficking organisation, but who were in fact confidential sources (the “CSes”) working at the direction and under the supervision of the DEA.
The defendants negotiated on behalf of the Akasha Organisation to procure and distribute hundreds of kilograms of heroin from suppliers in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and to produce and distribute hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine, which they understood would ultimately be imported into the US.
During a meeting in Mombasa in April 2014, BAKTASH AKASHA ABDALLA introduced a confidential source via Skype to one of his heroin suppliers in Pakistan, who said he could provide 420 kg of 100 per cent pure heroin, which he called “diamond” quality, for distribution in the US.
Thereafter, in June 2014, a co-defendant began discussing with the CSes his ability to procure methamphetamine precursor chemicals and to establish labs to produce methamphetamine for importation to the US.
In a meeting in Mombasa in September 2014, BAKTASH AKASHA ABDALLA introduced another co-defendant as a narcotics transporter from Afghanistan who moved huge quantities of narcotics using ships. BAKTASH AKASHA ABDALLA and a co-defendant also described Hafeez to the CSes as one of the top drug traffickers in the world.
In September and October 2014, Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla personally delivered 1 kg samples of methamphetamine and heroin to the CSes in Nairobi on behalf of the Akasha Organisation.
In early November, Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla personally delivered an additional 98 kg of heroin to the CSes in Nairobi on behalf of the Akasha Organisation. A few days later, Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla also delivered another kg of methamphetamine. In the course of these preliminary transactions, the Akasha Organisation provided a total of 99 kg of heroin and 2 kg of methamphetamine to the CSes, and agreed to provide hundreds of kilograms more of each.
The defendants, along with Gulam Hussein and Vijaygiri Anandgiri Goswami alias Vicky, were provisionally arrested by Kenyan Anti-Narcotics Unit officers on November 9, 2014, in Mombasa, prior to another planned meeting with the CSes.
At the time of the provisional arrests in Kenya, 500 kg of heroin brokered by Hafeez were being transported through international waters to the defendants in Africa. The defendants directed the ship to return to the Afghanistan/Pakistan region rather than risking interdiction upon arrival.
Following the arrests and during pending extradition proceedings, the defendants continued to distribute huge quantities of narcotics. They used some of the drug proceeds to bribe Kenyan officials — including judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers — in an effort to avoid extradition to face the charges against them in the US.
On January 29, 2017, the Kenyan government expelled the defendants, and the DEA brought them to the Southern District of New York for prosecution.
The strong Indian connect comes from Vicky Goswami and Ali Punjwani, both married to Indian actresses Mamta Kulkarni and Kim Sharma (now estranged), respectively. In 2013, Vicky Goswami, after serving a 15-year sentence in Dubai, accepted the Akasha proposal and began to help them distribute the ‘abba’ (a precursor chemical they would use to manufacture mandrax) that they accessed through their corrupt connections with Kenyan officials and large scale manufacturers of mandrax in South Africa.
From here the Akashas and Goswami expanded their illegal distribution of abba by seeking out other suppliers. Baktash obtained contact information for an abba supplier in China named Martin Hong. Sometime in June-July 2014, Baktash arranged for Hong to travel from China to Mombasa to meet with the Akashas and Goswami.
They decided that Hong supply them with abba at $40,000 per tonne, plus an additional $30,000 per tonne if he agreed to an exclusive partnership. After initial hesitation, Hong accepted the offer.
Over the next three years — including while the Akashas were bailed pending the US extradition request which they were actively obstructing — Hong provided the Akasha Organisation 10 tonnes of abba.
From this point, he was involved virtually in every deal that the Akasha Organisation entered. In 2014 and 2015, the Akashas’ primary drug trafficking rival in Mombasa was Ali Punjani. To target Punjani, the Akashas targeted associates like Speedy and Tony Sanhani.