By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – A leading Kenyan drug trafficker, Baktash Akasha, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a U.S. judge on Friday after he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to import heroin and methamphetamine and other crimes.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan sentenced Akasha, 42, who U.S. prosecutors have described as the leader of the Akasha organisation, a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and U.S. cities.
His brother, Ibrahim Akasha, has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge in November.
George Goltzer, Akasha’s lawyer, said after the sentence that the judge had been “very thoughtful” but declined to comment further.
The case stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha organisation, leading to the extradition of the brothers to the United States from Kenya in January 2017 along with Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national charged with heading a drug transportation network, and Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the organisation’s drug business.
The four defendants were arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2014 in a U.S.-led sting operation, in which authorities said the Akasha organisation provided 99 kilograms (218 lb) of heroin and two kilograms of methamphetamine to DEA informants posing as drug traffickers.
A fifth defendant accused of working with the Akasha organisation, Muhammad Asif Hafeez, was arrested in London in August 2017. The United States has requested his extradition.
The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks. The Satao Project, a private company focused on fighting poaching, has said the Akasha network was also linked to around 30 tons of ivory seizures.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)