They must have felt untouchable. For two years, two brothers from the notorious Akasha crime family from Mombasa, Kenya, had bribed and threatened their way around the drug-smuggling charges against them. Those same tactics enabled them to impede the U.S. government’s requests to extradite them for their international drug trafficking crimes.
Wildlife trafficking appears to have been a side business for the Akasha brothers, bringing in small revenues compared to what they made from their main heroin routes through Afghanistan. But the quantities of ivory they were trafficking were catastrophic for elephants. The Akashas were linked to the seizure of up to 30 tons of ivory, playing their part in turning Mombasa into one of the biggest trans-shipment points for ivory heading to Asia.
Things changed for the Akashas on the night of January 29, 2017. Security forces stormed a house in Mombasa, apprehending the two brothers and two of their accomplices. Soon they were in custody and heading back to New York with the agents who had engineered their arrest. Two days later they were in front of the judges of the Southern District of Manhattan to confront the consequences of their crimes. Law enforcement officials have found it difficult to work in the quagmire of political corruption and drug trafficking that exists in Mombasa.
This makes the victory of the Akasha brothers’ arrest all the more significant. Last year, in 2016, another well-known trafficker, Feisal Ali Mohamed, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail for ivory trafficking.
This conviction happened despite massive levels of bribery and threats to the staff of Wildlife Direct, an ECF partner that was instrumental in bringing Mohamed to justice. Feisal’s case was a significant breakthrough, but he was a minor player in a large and well-connected network. The Akashas were operating on a much higher level, making their prosecution a great success for everyone working to stop ivory trafficking. The ECF and our partners, including the Satao Project, used whatever influence we could to keep this case in the public eye, and at last the Kenyan government handed the Akashas over to the U.S. government for prosecution.
The charges against the brothers carry a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum life sentence. All of the suspects have agreed to cooperate with the U.S. authorities, which could result in a reduced sentence. While most of this information is likely to relate to drugs, the ECF’s partners are working to ensure the suspects also offer information about their involvement in ivory trafficking and their partners in the business.