Criminal lawyer Cliff Ombeta has revealed intricate details of the events that led to the 25-year jail sentence slapped on convicted drug baron Baktash Akasha.
In an exclusive interview by the Sunday Standard, for the first time since the extradition of his former clients to the United States, Ombeta talked of a series of abductions, threats, a near-successful escape by Baktash and a fallout among his clients as the noose of justice tightened around the Akasha family and their associates.
He blames one of his clients, Vijayghiri Goswami, for the tribulations of Baktash and his younger brother Ibrahim.
Speaking just a day after the sentencing of Baktash by a New York court, Ombeta wasted little time in identifying the string that he says led to the eventual jailing of his client in a foreign prison.
Ombeta tore into Goswami’s credibility as a reliable witness. He disclosed that Goswami, who is believed to have cut a deal with the United State's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), entered Kenya on a forged Indian passport in late 2012 after serving jail time in the United Arab Emirates.
The lawyer said when the US and Kenyan detectives burst into Baktash’s Nyali residence on January 26, 2017, they arrested his brother Ibrahim and Goswami and simultaneously seized Pakistani national Gulam Hussein at his residence in Bombolulu.
Baktash was also in the house, but he managed to flee by scaling the compound’s perimeter wall only to be sold out moments later by an Italian informant who led the American law enforcement team straight to one of his hideouts.
On Friday, Baktash was jailed for 25 years on the strength of testimony by Goswami – a star witness – that implicated the Akashas in what the courts described as a decades-old drug trafficking, murder and racketeering operation that also involved widespread bribery of judicial and top government officials.
Ombeta challenged Goswami, Kenya and US officials to publish any evidence that defense lawyers, judges and magistrates were on a mission to defeat justice with regard to the Akashas’ case during a two-year period that his former clients battled extradition orders to the US.
Goswami has claimed that the Akashas bribed Kenyan officials to stymie and delay their extradition to the US, but Ombeta dismisses these as sweeping claims not backed by facts on record and evidence.
Ombeta maintained that although client-lawyer confidentiality principles prevent him from discussing this matter in detail, he said Goswami’s testimony was at best “salacious and a tissue of lies at worst contrived by a determined opportunist”.
He admitted that the Akashas and the two other clients “might have committed the crimes they are accused of” but only due process, devoid of extra-judicial pressure could determine their guilt or innocence.
He depicted Goswami as an opportunist ready to strike deals for survival but also disclosed that although he represented the Akashas, Goswami and Hussein to battle extradition to the US, there was turmoil and enmity among the four.
“Goswami is not a saint-like Ceaser’s wife. He has been jailed before,” Ombeta said and accused his former client of throwing his comrades under the bus by entering a “self-serving” deal for personal gain.
“It was a self-serving deal because he is a survivor. He is sweetening the tale to please the Americans for some benefit.”
He said besides being wanted in the US, Goswami had served jail time in the UAE on a drug conviction and was also a fugitive from justice in South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia.
Ombeta said as a lawyer, his biggest heartache with the manner in which this matter has unfolded is that due to pressure from Kenya and the US, due process was disregarded and his client “abducted” from Kenya.
He hypothesised that one reason this was done is that Kenyan officials were desperate to get rid of his clients, partly because they were aware the evidence they held against him could not sustain a conviction in a Kenyan court.
He also said Kenyan and US officials orchestrated the “abduction” on January 26, 2017 after sensing that the prosecution’s conduct, handling of evidence and arguments could not convince the Kenyan court to listen to the extradition application.
Ombeta argued that whereas Goswami’s claims on the Akashas are detailed on many alleged crimes, the Indian’s allegations of corrupt judicial officials are hazy and staggered.
He said Goswami’s alleged bribery claims against lawyers and judicial officials do not state names, amounts given, and time and place where the alleged corruption took place. "To that extent the testimony is hearsay," he said.
“During the entire proceedings no one on the defense team, which I led, met any judicial officer. For the most part, magistrates and judges applied the law and procedure as it should and in some cases a judge even enhanced the bond terms,” Ombeta said.
He also recounted the violence he says was meted out on him by US and Kenyan police officers during the “violent arrest” of his clients at the Akashas homes. He said aside from being handcuffed to prevent him from speaking to his client, he was held at gunpoint in the dead of night and threatened with death.
Ombeta also accused the government of ceding its sovereignty to the DEA and courts and characterised the Akashas removal from Kenya as an abduction that flouted Kenya’s extradition and international laws as well as United Nations conventions.
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