From drug lord to state witness: The story of Vijayghiri Goswami
Mr Vijayghiri (Vicky) Goswami, an Indian national arrested and extradited to the US on trafficking charges is the only one among a drug cartel imprisoned there to have accepted to testify against Mr Hafeez Asif, the man believed to have been supplying drugs to the Akasha brothers.
He, alongside the two Akasha brothers — Baktash Abdalla and Ibrahim Abdalla — Bollywood star Mamta Kulkarni, and Pakistan national Ghulam Hussein, were picked by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and taken to the US. Ms Kulkarni is Mr Goswami’s wife. He alleges that the Gupta family was laundering money for Mr Asif.
For accepting to testify against Mr Asif and the other co-accused, Kenyan lawyer Cliff Ombeta described Mr Goswami as an opportunist who threw his friends under the bus to survive. Mr Ombeta said these words immediately the Akasha’s, who were his clients, were jailed in New York.
Mr Goswami, Mr Ombeta added, “entered Kenya on a forged Indian passport in late 2012 after he served a jail term in a country in the East.”
Baktash was jailed for 25 years and also slapped with a fine of Sh10 million while Ibrahim was jailed for 23 years after he pleaded guilty. This is one of the reasons Mr Ombeta was furious with Mr Goswami.
During the hearing, Mr Goswami told an American court that he had a connection with the Yakuza, a Mafia-like criminal organisation operating in Japan.
He further accused the Akasha brothers of killing a South African drug dealer and threatening those who were against their activities in Kenya.
He claimed his home country at some point sought his help with the murder of some people using his links to the Yakuza.
Mr Goswami named several South African nationals he said were linked to the drugs trade.
They include a businessman he identified as his brother-in-law, Mr Dennis Jedburgh, whom he accused of smuggling mandrax.
He pleaded guilty in a cooperating plea agreement with the US authorities in which he was required to testify against Mr Asif, just as he had just testified against the four co-accused.
It is worth noting that US authorities tried to convince his accomplices with whom he was extradited from Kenya to testify against Mr Asif but it is only Mr Goswami who agreed to do so.
Further, the US never charged Mr Goswami in the superseding indictment, which clearly shows that he had turned into a witness and an asset who would be assisting in nailing more suspects engaged in the drug business.
Mr Goswami grew up in Ahmadabad, India, where he made a living as a bootlegger. He then moved to Mumbai where he met with Ms Mamta Kulkarni and they married.
Two years later, he was arrested in Dubai and jailed for life for trafficking mandrax, a highly addictive drug that slows down the central nervous system and has sedative properties.
The life sentence was later reduced to 10 years, which he served and was released. He then relocated to Kenya’s coast together his wife and started working closely with the Akashas.
US authorities claim Mr Goswami and Mr Asif have a history of dealing drugs and that’s why he was jailed in Dubai.
Mr Goswami has not shied away from telling the truth about his crimes. He told a US court that, while he was in prison in 1997, he used to launder money through a Colombian drugs cartel in several countries including the US and Canada.
“I ran the mandrax business in South Africa [from my prison cell in Dubai],” Mr Goswami told the court. He said he had a mobile phone behind bars and was able to contact associates on the outside and do business, making roughly $3 million (Sh394 million). In 2001, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper reported that the association between Mr Goswami and Orlando Pirates football club boss Irvin Khoza came to haunt the latter, who became the subject of criminal investigations.
The South Africa Revenue Service opened a probe into his businesses, reckoning his tax liability arising from undeclared income to be a whopping ZAR464 million (Sh3.4 billion).
“Mr Goswami by then had a firm reputation as an international drug trafficker. Originally from India, he first moved to Zambia in the 1970s, where he later rose to prominence as a businessman well-connected in political and football circles. He was arrested on suspicion of mandrax dealing in 1989 but later released. In November 1993, he was slapped with a deportation order from Zambia, again under a cloud of suspicion on drug dealing,” the newspaper reported.
Between 1991 and 1993, the South African Narcotics Bureau, through Operation Rose, probed Mr Goswami, who was believed to own an aviation company there, and his suspected local counterparts.
Those flagged included Khoza Abie “Pankie” Khabela, who in the early 70s played for Orlando Pirates and was at some point Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguard. The other was Khabela’s friend Keith Sekhukhune Motapanyane.
While Mr Goswami left South Africa in the mid-90s, the mandrax scene in the country started heating up. In 2017, a district court in Thane, India issued non-bailable warrants against Mr Goswami and his partner in absentia. His wife was also indicted in an ephedrine haul case.
This is after the Indian authorities found out that ephedrine was being delivered to Mr Goswani who was in Kenya.
Ephedrine, a crystalline alkaloid, is obtained from Ephedra, a shrub that has been used in China for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
It causes constriction of the blood vessels and widening of the bronchial passages and is used to relieve asthma and hay fever.
Mr Asif is a well-connected figure in the UK who interacted with the who is who including members of the royal family. The US accuses him, alongside the Akasha brothers, of shipping drugs into the US. He has, however, moved to court to stop his extradition to the US.