A flamboyant city lawyer has revealed for the first time how he almost died at the hands of Americans who wanted to arrest and extradite the Akasha brothers for drug trafficking.
Cliff Ombeta told the Star how he thwarted attempts by the Americans to record his conversations and twice rejected hefty bribes.
All these were part of efforts to force him to abandon his clients Baktash and his brother Ibrahim Akasha so that they could be extradited to the US.
In a wide-ranging interview Ombeta laid bare the manoeuvres by the American investigators saying the US detectives threatened him with death after he refused to lead them to the Akashas’ hideout.
“They would trail us all the time. At one time I took a laptop that they were using to record us at Whitesands Hotel, smashed it on the floor and threw the fragments into the ocean.
“They said I had destroyed American property and insisted that they were not recording us. They said they were just testing their equipment. I dared them to do their worst,” Ombeta said.
Ombeta said the Americans monitored all his movements during the case and they often booked themselves in luxurious hotels where he was putting up.
“They knew which rooms we were staying. If we took room 113 they took 114,” Ombeta said.
The city lawyer said that he was aware that Americans did not want him and had ‘cooked’ all sorts of stories to malign his name.
“We had bodyguards at that time. That’s why they have bile with me. I even had to tell the court in one of the many hearings that there were intruders when I saw them sitting in court. I fought them in each and every yard,” the city lawyer said.
A U.S. judge sentenced Baktash to 25 years in prison in August after he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to import heroin and methamphetamine and other crimes
The prosecutors described Akasha as the leader of a crime family called the Akasha organisation.
The organisation, they said, was a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and U.S. cities.
In his guilty plea, Baktash Akasha also admitted to bribing officials in Kenya.
His brother, Ibrahim Akasha, has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge in November.
But Ombeta maintains that the Akashas were not subjected to a fair trial in Kenya.
“They even offered me $250,000 (25 million) cash in City Mall telling me, ‘Tomorrow don’t come to court’. But I refused. They tried every trick,” Ombeta told the Star.
Ombeta denied claims that he was the conduit of hefty bribes that were allegedly offered to the country’s criminal justice system by the Akasha brothers.
“Who took the money and for what? When they (Akasha brothers) were being kidnapped I fought with them (Americans) at City Mall. They even offered me the same amount of cash to tell them where Bhaktash was and I refused,” Ombeta said.
Baktash Akasha Abdalla, Vijaygiri Anandgiri, Gulam Hussein and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla at the Mombasa High Court on February 9. Photo Mkamburi Mwawasi.
The case stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha organisation.
It led to the extradition of the brothers to the United States from Kenya in January 2017 along with Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national.
Hussein was charged with heading a drug transportation network.
Another person extradited was Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the organisation’s drug business.
Ombeta said that, at some point, the Americans nearly shot him so as to have their way in extraditing the two brothers to the US to face drug-trafficking charges.
“At Akasha’s house they even put guns to my head,” Ombeta said. He maintains that he has no apologies for offering legal counsel to the Akasha brothers.
The two Akasha brothers were accused of successfully managing to stall their own extradition cases by first obtaining bail, repeated adjournments and slowing the wheels of justice.
The lawyer denied claims that he was at the heart of the elaborate web of people including security officials, the judiciary and top government officials that shielded the Akasha family drug empire from prosecution.
He said that it was the Americans who branded the Kenyan justice system corrupt and connived to airlift his clients after the prosecution sensed defeat in court.
“Then they started calling us bad names, saying that we were corrupt and were delaying the case. Truth is we never delayed the case but it was the prosecution that did,” he said.
They never brought witnesses, just affidavits and when they realised that the court might rule against them they decided to kidnap them, Ombeta said.
“All this talk that people were given money is rubbish. Most of those mentioned never handled the matter and some of the ones who handled the case have not been named,” he said.
Ombeta said drama started when the Akashas were first arrested.
He immediately set in motion a legal challenge after realising the government’s intentions were to extradite them to the US the same day.
“We managed to block it after I told the court there was nothing like that in law and we have an extradition treaty with the US. They had sneaked them into court at 3pm to get orders,” he said.
He went on: “After the court declined, the state prepared charge sheets in court and charged them with drug trafficking. That is when the drama started.”
The lawyer said he came to know the Akashas during his pupilage when they used to go to court for their father’s cases.
He became close with them when he appeared for murder suspects who had been charged with the killing of their dad.
“When I reached there I met Bhaktash Akasha and his brother who asked why I was representing people who killed their dad, yet we were friends.
“Because I had already been paid I went for the first two to three sessions and handed it over to someone else because of conflict [of interest],” he said.
The Akasha brothers reportedly confessed to the US authorities of bribing officials in Kenya, Tanzania and other countries to ensure their drugs moved across borders without scrutiny.
During court proceedings in the US, Baktash and Ibrahim are said to have named persons in the judiciary and government as part of the Akasha’s drug empire.
Among them were a prominent city lawyer, a former senior official in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, some judges and government officials.
It was also claimed that the US government had already made their Kenyan counterparts aware of its intention to charge the suspects in US courts.
But Ombeta said that the US authorities had resorted to mudslinging and blackmail after failing to sustain the prosecution in Kenya.
He said his clients never influenced the court system.
“Let them not call judges bad names, even the ones who were never interested in the cases. The blame is squarely on them. I think the courts were against us. From the lower court all the way to the Court of Appeal, they did not favour us,” Ombeta said.
The lawyer said that while the defence counsel was busy researching and preparing for a final push towards an end to the extradition matter, the prosecutors were “gift wrapping four nice bundles to hand over to the Americans. The DPP was preaching the law while breaking it”.