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25 years in jail as drug lord Baktash Akasha gives up most rights in deal

By Kamau Muthoni | August 17th 2019
Baktash Akasha (left) and his brother Ibrahim Akasha (right). [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Convicted drug lord Baktash Akasha was last evening handed a 25-year jail sentence.

In what now deals a mortal blow to the Akasha narcotics empire, Baktash will also pay a fine of Sh10 million from the proceeds of their illicit trade.

Mixed reactions greeted the sentencing as focus now turns on the collaborators of the Akashas in Kenyan political and criminal justice sectors.

It was a culmination of a swift process that saw Baktash plead guilty before a trial, giving up most of his rights in exchange of the sentence he got last evening.

And as the sentence was handed, it emerged that Baktash had agreed to be deported. If he were to be deported, he was not going to return to the US ever again, according to the deal.

“Do you understand that if you are not a US citizen that your guilty plea and conviction will presumptively result in your mandatory deportation and removal from the US and that you will have no right to withdraw your plea by virtue of any adverse immigration consequence?” the court asked him while affirming the deal.

Under oath, the 44-year-old responded: “Yes, your Honour.”

Baktash and his brother Ibrahim Akasha never saw each other for the two years from when they landed in the US until they both pleaded guilty. Ibrahim will be sentenced on November 8.

Ibrahim was held at Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan, New York, while Baktash was 15 kilometres away in Metropolitan Detention Centre, Brooklyn.

The two were however re-united “for emotional support” after a plea that a separation order should be lifted.

Baktash struck a deal with the US authorities that will see him neither appeal nor seek a sentence review in the event the judge jailed him for less than a life sentence.

According to court documents, he agreed that he would not challenge any fine below Sh1 billion or any order by the court to forfeit his wealth in a bid to compensate victims of his crimes.

The third strand of the agreement was that Baktash would not appeal in the event the US government failed to provide to him information that would aid him defend himself.

He was also asked whether he had any promises or was threatened by US authorities to make him plead guilty. He replied in the negative.

Baktash’s private life came to light when a US Court started his trial alongside that of his brother Ibrahim. Away from his messy drugs trade, he had a personal life that most would not have known were it not for the criminal case.

He told the judge that he studied up to Grade 12, an equivalent of Fourth Form. He also revealed that he is diabetic, suffers from hypertension and has ulcers.

Judge Morrero asked Baktash whether he had been under a doctor’s care or any health professional. He replied that he had been taking insulin injection and pressure pills.

The judge asked him to explain whether he had ever been treated or hospitalised for alcoholism or drug addiction. He said that he used to use drugs but he never ended up in a hospital. In fact, he confessed that he had used them for a long time.

Court records show that he was nervous on his first day in court. The judge engaged him on whether he had a clear mind which he affirmed. The judge asked his lawyers whether they had any objection to Baktash’s trial commencing. They never objected. In an interesting directive, the judge assured him that he had a right to use court’s powers to force witnesses to come to court and testify in his favour even if the witness did not want to show up or had no interest in the case.

He had two options – either be tried by American citizens in a grand jury or give up that right for a trial before a judge and based on US prosecution’s narrative as if he had been found to have a case to answer.

Under the US Constitution, you have a right to be charged and tried by a grand jury. It is composed of 23 ordinary citizens who are called to hear the government’s evidence in criminal cases and decide whether the evidence is sufficient to justify bringing you to trial.

In order to return an indictment, at least 12 of the grand jurors must vote in favour of the State, finding that there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that you committed it.

The drug baron opted for the latter, which now opened doors for the State’s prosecutor Geoffrey Berman to reveal the drug world of Baktash and his brother Ibrahim.

The judge explained that the charges he was facing would likely cost him Sh5.5 billion or double what he had made in drugs sale alongside a life in prison.

“Now, the Court also has authority to require you to pay restitution to any victims of these crimes in an amount that the Court decides is required to compensate them for any injuries,” the judge said.

“By pleading guilty, you’re admitting to the forfeiture allegation in the superseding information and agree to forfeit all monetary proceeds you obtained from the crimes to which you plead guilty as well as any property used or intended to be used in connection with these crimes.”

The judge asked if he had enough time with his lawyers to discuss the charges he was facing. His agreed and added that he had been informed about the consequences of pleading guilty.

After pleading guilty, the judge asked him to explain in his own words what he had done that made him guilty. He said that between March 2014 and January 2017, he had hatched a deal to transport to US a kilo of heroin and more than 500 grammes of amphetamine.

He also confessed that during the same period, he aided distribution of the two drugs in Kenya and elsewhere. He said he had agreed that the transporters would protect his drugs using machine guns. He also admitted bribing Kenyan officials in a bid to beat his extradition.

“I knew that the conduct I have admitted was wrong and was against the law,” he testified.  

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