Cliff Ombeta and the Akasha connection

Lawyer Cliff Ombeta (left) with Baktash Akasha, Vijaygiri Goswami, Gulam Hussein and Ibrahim Akasha in a Mombasa court in  November 2014. PHOTO FILE


What you need to know:


  • In  2016, lawyer Cliff Ombeta twice played the role of arbitrator to end wars between the Akasha siblings and individuals they had marked as threats.
  • Mr Ombeta reveals that Mr Goswami also owed the Akashas an undisclosed amount of money, which may have sparked the brothers’ decision to kill him.

The ruthless tactics used by drug-dealing brothers Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha make it difficult to believe they would ever sit at a negotiating table with anyone perceived to be a threat to their hold on the global narcotics trade.

The brothers always took what they wanted – including entire narcotics distribution industries – instead of asking for it. Conversely, the Akashas could not stand competition, or their rivals poaching their employees.

Some of their victims, like two South African drug dealers only identified as Taka and Pinky, were brutally murdered just to send a message: The Akashas and their business are not to be messed around with.

Yet in 2016, lawyer Cliff Ombeta twice played the role of arbitrator to end wars between the Akasha siblings and individuals they had marked as threats.

One of these conflicts was between the brothers and their biggest competition in Kenya’s coastal region, the controversial businessman Ali Punjani. On Mr Punjani’s side was a drug dealer only identified as Speedy in the Akasha trials that took place in the United States last year, and which saw both brothers convicted and jailed.

Baktash and Ibrahim had in their ranks Vijaygiri Goswami, who was the go-to guy for the raw materials used in manufacturing narcotics, including mandrax and methamphetamine, and therefore a crucial cog in their expansion plans.

Injured in scuffle

In 2016, the Akasha and Punjani camps met at a Mombasa hotel, whose name several of our sources were reluctant to reveal, and had a nasty fight that culminated in a shootout. Mr Punjani and the Akasha brothers both got injured in the scuffle, but escaped being shot. All three reported assault complaints with the police, muddying the waters as to who to arrest for which assault. Eventually, the police decided to prosecute all three.

Worried that his clients were going to kill each other, Mr Ombeta suggested that everyone suspend their egos and talk. The two sides then met at Sarova Whitesands, which would end up being the de facto “no man’s land”where peace talks would be held for other future disputes.

Respect each other

“I won’t mention which business they were in but I sat them down and told them things had got out of hand and they were all risking prosecution,” Mr Ombeta tells the Saturday Nation. “Everyone agreed to stop fighting and respect each other’s business. But the way things were going, everyone was going to be arrested if they did not sit down and talk.”

Court documents from the US have also revealed that the Akashas would later fall out with their raw materials supplier, Mr Goswami. Once again they sat down at the Whitesands and not only called peace but also agreed to work together again.

Mr Ombeta reveals that Mr Goswami also owed the Akashas an undisclosed amount of money, which may have sparked the brothers’ decision to kill him.

“I also mediated a fight between Vicky (Mr Goswami) and the Akashas at Whitesands  in relation to debts Vicky owed Baktash,” he says.

Those who attended the peace talks with Mr Goswami were Baktash, Ibrahim, Gulam Hussein, an individual identified as Niju Dawood and Mr Ombeta, who represented the Akashas until their extradition to the US.

“We came to be peaceful (sic), we were not going to fight each other, it was a peaceful argument,” Mr Goswami said of this meeting during the US trial.

Perhaps what Mr Ombeta did not know was that the peace talks were mostly s uccessful because the individual at the centre of the Akasha-Goswami rift, the South African drug dealer identified as Taka, was brutally murdered to ensure that peace prevailed between the two camps.

Our investigations revealed that Baktash felt betrayed by Mr Goswami, who refused to supply two tonnes of abba, the raw material used in making mandrax. Mandrax is a popular and addictive sedative in South Africa, and is usually sold in tablet form.

The brothers had worked out a plan to enter the lucrative meth market in 2014; all they needed was the raw materials to make the drug. The meth would be manufactured in Tanzania and then sold all over the world, including the US.

Enter Avon Lifesciences factory in Solapur, India, which manufactured a substance called ephedrine, the main ingredient in methamphetamine.

In 2015, the Akasha boys initiated their plan by ordering for 3.5 tonnes of the substance from an unnamed Avon employee, who agreed to sell it to them for $1 million (Sh107 million by today’s exchange rate). The Avon employee was paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars” as a bribe, according to Goswami’s testimony in the US.

Planned execution

But before the ephedrine could be released to the Akashas, Indian authorities descended on Avon and shut down their Solapur factory, causing Baktash to lose the entire sum of money.

It was back to the drawing board for the Akashas. Baktash decided they would fall back on a previous plan to take over the mandrax industry in South Africa. This is what led to the rivalry between Mr Goswami and the Akashas.

Mr Goswami has been a friend and foe of the Akasha siblings, and is one of the very few people to have had Baktash and Ibrahim change their minds about an already planned execution.

Mr Goswami had been friends with the family patriarch, the elder Ibrahim Akasha, who was murdered in the Netherlands at the turn of the millennium by a lone gunman on a motorbike. Baktash took over the family’s drug business and later on recruited his brother Ibrahim. The brothers slowly became the biggest cocaine, mandrax, heroin, methaqualone and hashish suppliers in Kenya’s coastal region. The two gun-toting, trigger-happy siblings later expanded the business by trafficking ivory and weapons, giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘brothers in arms’.

In 2012, Mr Goswami returned to Kenya after a 15-year stay in a Dubai prison for manufacturing mandrax. While he had originally been handed a life sentence, he successfully applied for early release in line with Dubai laws.

And so, as Kenyans were celebrating Jamhuri Day on December 12 that year, Mr Goswami was freed. He decided to fly to Kenya to enjoy his independence on the sandy beaches of Mombasa, and make friends with Baktash and Ibrahim with a view to re-entering the narcotics business.

His arrival excited powerful drug dealers at the Coast. The Akashas had to fight off competition from rival Punjani to ensure that Goswami worked with them instead.

Two years after his arrival, Mr Goswami and the Akasha boys were arrested for conspiring to traffic in heroin and methamphetamine to the US. They fought extradition until 2017  when they were bundled into a plane to New York.

In his five-hour testimony, Mr Goswami confessed that his head was top on the Akashas’ wish list in 2016, shortly after Avon’s factory was shut down. With Sh107 million down the drain and no access to raw materials for meth production, the South Africa mandrax market was their hope.

For this project, Baktash partnered with Taka. Mr Goswami had links that could help secure abba.

On the same day Avon’s factory was shut, Baktash called Goswami and asked for two tonnes of abba to be shipped to South Africa. Mr Goswami refused to comply when he found out he would not be making any money from the deal. Baktash threatened to assault Mr Goswami.

“And he was threatening me and telling me I’m coming to your house, I’m going to beat the **** out of you, and I will make sure my wife Najma Ali beats your girlfriend in front of you,” Baktash reportedly told Mr Goswami.

Broke into home

Baktash then drove to Mr Goswami’s house, where the Indian national’s girlfriend was staying. Mr Goswami was in a neighbouring apartment. Baktash was with Ibrahim, his wife, a son and bodyguards. The Akashas broke into Mr Goswami’s home, at which point the Indian national called a mutual friend, Gulam Hussein, to calm Baktash down. The Akashas left.

Mr Goswami had drug dealing friends of his own in South Africa, and he called one identified only as Mazaghadi to narrate the ordeal. Mazaghadi was a competitor of Baktash’s South African link-man Taka. He said Taka was the source of the wedge between Baktash and Mr Goswami, hence should be executed. The next day, Taka was killed by a South African gang.

With Taka dead, Baktash had no reason to hold a grudge, and he agreed to meet Mr Goswami. This was the meeting Mr Ombeta and Baktash’s nephews attended.

Baktash, Ibrahim, Goswami and Gulam were extradited to the US in January 2017 to face drug trafficking charges following an investigation by the country’s Drug Enforcement Agency.

The US has put in an extradition request for Muhammad Asif Hafeez, another of the syndicate’s associates, who was arrested in London in 2017. Mr Goswami has also cut a deal with US prosecutors and last year laid bare the violent spree that the Akashas meted out to protect their turf.