In 2014, a lone man walked streets of a South African city unaware that the steps were to be his last.
As he enjoyed the cool winter breeze, a man appeared from the crowd and shot him 32 times, his body shredded by the sheer violence of the act.
In Mombasa, a man acting on behalf of one of the most feared crime families got a text message confirming the death of the man. He then made an order for flowers to be delivered to the family of the dead and followed up with a phone call, to pass his condolences.
This was just another day in the life of Baktash Akasha, heir apparent to his father’s multi-billion shilling drugs empire headquartered in Mombasa.
This and more horrifying, bloody scenarios have emerged from fresh documents on the magnitude and extent of the Akasha family drug empire filed in a New York court.
The documents, filed a few days ago, also show the power and brazenness with which the Akashas ran the drug underworld not only in the country, but on the African continent as well, ending lives brutally and with a finality that underpinned their grip on the drug business.
Often, the family ordered the killing of rivals and frequently reveled in abduction, torture and beating anyone who posed a threat, real or imaginary to their empire, always recording their acts of brutality on their phones, flashing the videos out whenever there was a need to intimidate a rival.
Too strong to resist
Apart from controlling the East African drug trade, the Akasha, in a move that finally led to their downfall, set their sights on conquering the North American drugs market through supply and distribution of the highest grade of heroin.
“For decades, the defendant was an international drug trafficker of massive proportions. He participated in the distribution of multi-ton quantities of methaqualone, hashish, and heroin, among other substances, to locations all over the world,” the US Government’s sentencing memorandum presented to the US Southern District Court of New York says, further detailing the vastness and reach of what US authorities call the Akasha Drug Trafficking Operation.
But for them, even after years of shipping tonnes of different drugs to global destinations, the allure of conquering arguably the world’s biggest market- the United States of America- proved too strong to resist.
In late June 2014, Baktash, his brother Ibrahim, and Vijaygiri Anandgiri Goswami, an acquaintance with whom the two brothers had a love-hate relationship, took a break from negotiating the largest drug deal of their lives. After all, it was Ramadan, the Muslim Holy month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.
For the next month, Baktash’s sin could wait. Thirty days was nothing compared to the jackpot at the end of their rainbow. The deal to take their drugs to America could wait.
Once those hurdles cleared, however, the parties pressed full steam ahead.
To protect their business, Baktash, his brother Ibrahim and others working for them protected the family business with violence, murder and threats, doing whatever was necessary to advance the criminal empire they inherited from their father after he was murdered in 2000.
But months leading to Ramadan were anchored on violence. Baktash is said to have kidnapped a rival drug trafficker, had him beaten, and pointed a pistol at the man’s head while threatening to kill him. Investigations into his past have unearthed five additional armed, drug-related assaults and a murder.
A murder linked to an attempt by the Akashas to protect their turf from a South African rival dealer, David Armstrong. The previous year, Armstrong’s shipment of some 10 tonnes of methaqualone commonly known as abba or Mandrax, a hypnotic medication, was seized by Kenyan authorities.
Cornered, and his main stash apprehended, Armstrong could only turn to his rivals for help. Armstrong knew his Kenyans frenemies could help him avoid arrest and arrange for safe passage out of the country. But this would not come cheap.
Armstrong asked the Akashas and Goswami to help him get out of the country in exchange for 500,000 methaqualone tablets. He had no cash on him. On this promise, the Akashas went into the family vault, withdrew some Sh20 million and embarked on a bribery mission of Kenyan state officials to get Armstrong relevant papers.
But Armstrong fled Kenya after growing impatient and without having surrendered the promised 500,000 tablets or repaying the Sh20 million the Akashas had already spent in payouts.
The brittle trust that had been brokered over this feuding enemies was broken. And when later in the year Armstrong returned to Mombasa to chase leads and links he had already established, he ran into the wrath of the Akashas.
“Baktash, Ibrahim, Goswami, and an armed bodyguard, found Armstrong at a hotel in Mombasa, where they threatened him. The next day, the Akashas kidnapped Armstrong and brought him to the Baktash’s house, where the Baktash and others severely beat Armstrong and continued to threaten him,” another investigation report presented to the NY court reads.
As the attack went on, Baktash is said to have brandished a pistol, eventually pointing it at Armstrong’s head and threatening to kill him. They were to release him. But the next day, trailing his every movement, they ambushed Armstrong in another hotel.
One of Goswami’s phones was used to record the assault, and photographs depicted Baktash and Ibrahim wiping blood from Armstrong’s face before questioning him and demanding the Sh20 million they had paid as bribes and the half a million pills the South African owed them.
Around this same time, a South African-based associate of Armstrong called Pinky began to direct threats at the Akashas and Goswami.
“As a result, Baktash, Ibrahim and Goswami decided to have Pinky killed in a public way to convey a message that the group would not tolerate such threats. Goswami coordinated the murder of Pinky in South Africa, and the killer shot Pinky 32 times in the streets, killing him,” investigations have revealed.
For the six months that followed the beating of Armstrong, the Akashas and Goswami worked together to transport between five and six tons of abba from Nairobi to South Africa after bribing their way through to police evidence lockers and making away with seven tonnes of the impounded drugs. Their pay day was between Sh60 million and Sh70 million per tonne.
After successfully moving more than two-thirds of the drugs from police custody to their markets, they again worked with a China-based affiliate to transport abba from China to South Africa.
“This conduct took place between 2013 and 2017 including after their provisional arrests in Kenya and while their extraditions to the United States were pending and involved them importing approximately 10 to 11 tons of abba to South Africa in exchange for between approximately Sh30 million and Sh35 million per ton,” investigators say. These two drug deals could have earned the Akasha’s some Sh820 million.
Immediately after the Ramadan of 2014, Baktash picked up from where he had left, and reached out, via Skype, to a heroin supplier on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan called Abdul Sayed. With the help of Sayed, Baktash was confident that his product would be the talk of every street corner in almost all major cities in the US.
Sayed was to provide the heroin. Baktash, through a Dubai- based Colombian who turned out to be a DEA informant, would provide the cash. For him, it wasn’t really about the money, it was all about the prestige. The thrills from the adventure of discovering routes that even his father, the great Ibrahim, was unable to conquer.
During the course of this call, Baktash also told Sayed that his Colombian partners wanted to pick up heroin from the Akasha DTO in East Africa, transport the drugs to West Africa on a “special plane,” and then use a “gateway to take it to the land of Obama.