Police raid tycoon’s home in war against drug trade

Mombasa businessman Ali Punjani’s residence in Nyali, Mombasa. Punjani is suspected of dealing in drugs. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Police yesterday raided the palatial home of Mombasa tycoon Ali Punjani as the war against suspected drug barons in the coastal town intensified.

The swoop came a day after Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced a looming “painful period for criminal gangs and drug lords” in the coastal city that was last week hit by a wave of organised crime.

Mr Punjani was not at home at the time of the raid. He was said to be in India where he underwent heart surgery.

It was not clear whether the police were aware of his absence before launching the raid or even whether he had information on the impending raid before he left the country.

Ongoing trial

Yesterday, it emerged that the businessman, whose name came up during the ongoing criminal trial of suspected Kenyan drug kingpins in New York, had been assigned 19 police officers as bodyguards, signalling his immense influence within the national security apparatus.

Last month, Vijay Goswami, another suspected drug lord, described Punjani as a rival drug trader in Mombasa – casting the light on the reclusive businessman.

Mr Goswami was testifying in the trial of the Akasha brothers who were arrested in Kenya and extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges.

Police sources indicated that prior to the raid, intelligence reports linking Punjani to criminal activities and narcotics had been circulated.

The information was collected from 17 suspects, including a ward rep from Likoni who was arrested in the day-long operation.

During the raid in Likoni, police took away 42 sachets of heroin, 147 rolls of bhang, 747 tablets of Bugizi and Sh608,000 in fake currency.

The police swoop came after last week’s violence in Nyali and Kisauni constituencies linked to the drug trade in which scores of people were injured.

Dr Matiang’i had on Sunday warned that the police would come down hard on organised criminals operating in the coastal region and other parts of the country.

Coast Regional police coordinator, Johnstone Ipara, yesterday asked Punjani and his associates to surrender at the nearest police station.

“We are asking this man and his associates to surrender at any police station in Kenya. The raid follows a meeting with the CS who instructed us to deal with the drug issue, which is the main cause of violence in the region” said Mr Ipara.

Police expected to come under heavy pressure to explain how a large number of officers were assigned to guard the businessman.

The armed police guards were assigned to his homes and businesses despite an ongoing criminal case in court. Sources said the policemen were withdrawn just before the raid began.

Punjani lives in a palatial home, located atop a cliff and overlooking the Indian Ocean, in the upmarket Nyali. The home can only be accessed through an electrified gate and is guarded 24 hours. 

The only other exit from the home is a door on the ocean front.

More than 30 police officers participated in the raid on Punjani’s home attracting the attention of curious neighbours.

Bulletproof windows

Inside the compound, were top of the range vehicles, some fitted with bulletproof windows.

The businessman was first linked to narcotics by a US embassy dossier that the then Internal Security minister George Saitoti tabled in Parliament about to 10 years ago. 

Investigations, however, cleared him of the any links with drugs trade before his name resurfaced in an ongoing criminal trial in New York of suspected Kenyan drug barons-Baktash Akasha, Ibrahim Akasha and Indian fugitive Vijay Goswami and Gulam Hussein from Pakistan.

During the trial, Punjani’s name was mentioned.

The Akashas, Goswami and Gulam were transferred to the US in early 2017 to face drugs-related charges

A month before the transfer, Punjani was charged with fighting in public with the Akashas.

During yesterday’s operation, police recovered rolls of bhang and fake new and old currencies from one of the homes of the detained suspects.

Punjani’s home has now been placed under 24-hour armed police guard.