Kenya extradites four men to U.S. on suspicion of heroin smuggling

NEW YORK/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Four men charged with directing a major heroin trafficking ring have been extradited to the United States from Kenya, U.S. prosecutors announced on Tuesday, in what officials say is a major blow to East Africa’s cartels.

Baktash Akasha, who U.S. prosecutors say led a Kenyan crime family called the Akasha organization that was involved in distributing heroin and methamphetamine, arrived in New York from Kenya along with three co-defendants on Monday.

His co-defendants include Ibrahim Akasha, his brother; Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani charged with heading a drug transportation network; and Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the Akasha organization’s drug business.

They are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan later on Tuesday. U.S. lawyers for Baktash Akasha, 40; Ibrahim Akasha, 28; and Hussein, 61, could not be immediately identified. Goswami’s lawyer declined immediate comment.

The charges stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha organization, which it alleges is a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and U.S. cities.

The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks. The Satao Project, a private company focused on fighting poaching, said the Akashas’ network was also linked to around 30 tons of ivory seizures.

The four men had been fighting their extradition since being arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2014 in a U.S.-led sting operation.

They had been out on bail when senior police officers from the counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics units in Nairobi arrested them in the coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday, their lawyer Cliff Ombeta said.

According to U.S. prosecutors, in 2014, the defendants agreed to supply multi-kilogram quantities of drugs individuals they believed were representatives of a Colombian drug-trafficking organization.

Those individuals were in fact DEA informants who recorded their meetings with the defendants, according to court papers.

Over the course of the negotiations, the Akasha organization provided 99 kilograms of heroin and two kilograms of methamphetamine to the DEA informants and agreed to provide hundreds of kilograms more of each, prosecutors said.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York and Katharine Houreld and David Lewis in Nairobi; additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Bernard Orr