The Gangland Life of Ibrahim Akasha

The profile of Ibrahim Akasha, Kenya’s first true crime don.

8:30 pm, Thursday March 28, 2002.

As he sat in his Land Rover Discovery, Kamaldin Akasha had little reason to worry. He was checking on one of his many businesses, the ZamZam Petrol Station, in Makupa, Mombasa. The drug mafia don and his brothers were in a tiff, but there wasn’t much to it. At least nothing worth looking over his shoulder over.

Behind him, a slender, white gunman dressed in a black T-shirt and a woolen hoodie sneaked up. When he got close enough to Kamaldin, he fired thrice in quick succession. Then he ran to the getaway car and fled the scene.

Kamaldin died right there.

Less than hour later, two of Kamaldin’s brothers got to the scene where their brother had died. The brothers, Baktash and Hassan, blamed their other brother, Tinta, for Kamaldin’s murder. Three years later, in 2005, Baktash told a court in Nairobi that Kamaldin had been killed in a vicious family feud over a hashish payment he had cut everyone else from.

Kamaldin’s death was the second in the prominent Akasha Clan, the first being that of its founding godfather, Ibrahim Akasha, two years before.

On the third day of May, 2000, a Wednesday, an aging man of medium height stepped onto the seedy red-light Bloedstraat (Blood Street) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In one hand he clasped his Egyptian wife’s hand. A plumpish Kenyan man with a disarming smile and a receding hairline, Ibrahim Akasha could have passed for just another tourist. But he wasn’t.

In Kenya and the Horn of Africa, he was the most important drug lord, a man so powerful that his name was whispered. In Pakistan, Afghanistan and Europe, he was spoken of in awe, a drug dealer extraordinare. If you needed any massive shipment of drugs sneaked into Europe, Akasha was the man you turned to. He had once successfully smuggled an entire container of drugs into the Mombasa Port.

That day in May 2000, he was on his way to meet a coffee shop owner called Magdi Barsoum. Magdi was the elder brother to Mounir Barsoum, a key cog in the European drug underworld. Mounir was one of Akasha’s contacts and customers and they had a common business problem for which Magdi had become mediator. But the Kenyan drug lord would never make it to the meeting.

A few meters into Blood Street, a lone gunman cycled up to Akasha and shot him seven times.

The first bullet ripped through Akasha’s face, as did the next three. The fifth and sixth tore through his heart, and the seventh cut his stomach. He died right there on the Blood Street, in his wife’s hands.

Ibrahim Akasha’s downfall culminated in that ruthless murder in a faroff European city. It had, however, began with a series of mistakes he had made in the half a decade before.

In 1996, Akasha was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. A quiet, ruthless, mafia don who preferred to work behind the shadows, the publicity unnerved the usually calm Akasha. He and his sons had a tiff with journalists in the courtroom, which made his case even more prominent. Getting arrested was a mistake because Ibrahim Akasha didn’t make mistakes; he lived by a rule book, which included making sure everyone who could mess with his empire was rich, or scared, or both.

Why he was arrested remains a mystery, but it’s likely he fell out with some of his powerful friends. He still managed to avoid the custodial sentence though. A man like Akasha didn’t go to jail, because he knew enough to bring down entire governments.

In 1997, one of his sons, Hassan, was arrested and jailed in Tanzania for smuggling mandrax. Like his father the year before, Hassan didn’t finish his sentence.

The next year,?Yusuf Abdallah, Ibrahim’s younger brother, was arrested in Kenya with two Pakistanis who had sneaked in drugs hidden in a consignment of bath towels and drinking straws. All three were jailed for a decade and fined Shs. 39 million, three times the value of the drugs. Yusuf would resurface much later in a bizarre car theft case involving former President Moi, and then legislator and assistant minister Fred Gumo.

For a man used to unparalleled power, these arrests made Akasha change his transport model. The first aspect of this was to find new partners, new conduits such as the Yugoslav mafia, that were unrelated to him.

Akasha’s new business model made it harder for him and his family to be as exposed. But it also took power away from him.

That new reality became evident with the first shipments, a consignment of heroin delivered through the Yugoslav conduits to Mounir Barsoum, who forwarded it to the Dutch cartel led by a man called Sam Klepper. According to Dutch police records, Klepper wasn’t the original intended customer for the consignment. Still, he refused to pay, triggering a chain of events that left everyone involved in the deal dead.

Akasha left Kenya in January 2000, under a fake passport, to demand his money from the Dutchman. Two weeks later, Akasha’s Nyali house was raided and he became a wanted man again. But he still had business to finish in Europe.

One of the lesser discussed elements of this fatal deal was that when Klepper refused to pay Barsoum the money that belonged to Akasha, the Kenyan drug lord kidnapped the Yugoslav conduit who connected them. He held him in Mombasa in January 2000 and demanded USD 2.5 million from the Dutch syndicate. It was never clear whether the unnamed Yugoslav was later released, or was found during the Nyali house raid, or killed in revenge.

As the underworld tiff escalated in the early months of 2000, Magdi, Mounir’s brother, became the mediator. From his cafe ‘Bar Red Light’ on Oudezijds Archterburgwal Street in Amsterdam, Magdi tried to end the war by bringing all sides to the table. Magdi was the reason Ibrahim Akasha flew to Amsterdam with Hayat, his wife, to seek out the Yugoslav drug mess.

But it doesn’t seem as if Magdi’s solution was to find an amicable solution. Dutch police suspected at the time that he either pulled the trigger or hired the man who killed Akasha and cycled away. His solution was to end the Kenyan to solve the problem for both sides, but it only made things worse. The Yugoslavs suspected Magdi had done so on Klepper’s bidding; a seemingly simple business solution to a problem the Dutchman had. Unlike the Yugoslavs, Klepper didn’t have a man held hostage in a house in East Africa. He also hadn’t lost the most important conduit for drugs on the East African cost.

After Akasha died, Klepper still refused to pay, even after the Yugoslav gang killed his right hand man John Femer. So they finished off Klepper too, four months after Akasha’s death. At his funeral one of the main theme songs was the score from the 1970s Mafia film “The Godfather.”

Magdi would die on the same street Akasha died on in 2002, while Mounir would be killed at a traffic light stop in 2004. Mounir’s daughter was injured in the attack but she survived.

***

So little is known about Ibrahim Akasha Abdallah’s beginnings that it’s hard to map out his childhood and early years. He was a Kenyan of Palestinian origin; his father, Abdallah Ibrahim, came to colonial Kenya from Sudan. Abdallah had spent most of his adulthood in Iraq, but he settled his family in Kenya. One of his sons, Ibrahim Akasha settled and built a legitimate transport business based in Mombasa.¬†

According to some reports, citing family insiders, Akasha also built Kenya National Taxi Corporation (KENATCO) before selling it to the government. While not independently verifiable, it’s likely because Akasha built his foothold in the transportation business. His main¬†business, Akasha Transport, would become the main front of his massive smuggling empire.

From licensing records, Akasha Transport doesn’t seem to have grown outwardly, with registered vehicles reducing from about 12 in 1982 to a mere five six years later. By then, 1988, the company was mentioned on the floor of Parliament for not paying a driver his full dues for six months of work. Other than that, it stayed off the limelight, a small business on the outside with one of the most important undercurrents in the region. The transport business was a perfect cover as it allowed Akasha to hide and repackage drugs, and gave him insights into shipping, the port business, and terrestrial transport. It became a blueprint for Kenyan smugglers.

Akasha was initially involved in gun running, supplying small arms across the region. When arms trafficking became even more lucrative as conflicts escalated across the region, arms traders such as Akasha found themselves fighting even more powerful cartels within the Kenyan government. So he turned to something that seemed less attractive to meddling, the drug trade.

To thrive here, he perfected the model that had worked with guns, using his Akasha Transport Company as the main cover. He also expanded the business, including several speedboats and a few warehouses for repackaging. Even with his ironhand control of the port, he still needed to be careful. As the drug shipments grew, the speedboats would meet the drug ships in the high seas and unload the cargo. Then they would dock in nondescript fishing villages where the drugs would be unloaded onto cars and taken to warehouses and sometimes, Akasha’s Nyali house.

Akasha became the main conduit for the flow of hashish, opium, heroin and cannabis from East Africa to Europe.

He was relevant not only to South Asian and South American drug routes, but also the Italian mob that had began settling in Malindi from the 1960s. No drugs entered or left Kenya or the Horn of Africa without Akasha’s involvement from the mid 1980s to the new millennium. For this he became immensely wealthy and powerful in a short time. Almost always impeccably dressed in a dark-colored suit, this chain-smoking drug lord became one of the most important criminals of his time, combining a business acumen with a charming and dark personality.

By the time he died, he was trying to control everything from wholesale to retail in the drug business, across an entire region. He wasn’t satisfied with being a mere middleman for far off cartels; he wanted to grow it and produce it too. Several vast marijuana estates in the Mount Kenya forests were linked back to the Akasha Clan.

Akasha invested his money in real estate, hospitality, petrol stations and many other sectors. He also had investments in Basel, Dubai, Sudan and Lebanon. One of the ways he laundered his money was, funny enough, by buying treasury bonds. In the first month of 1999 alone, the Kenyan government issued three billion shillings worth of bonds in the Kenyan market. The minimum purchase was Shs. 50, 000, and since the banking world still lived in the pre-August 1998 world, very few questions were asked about the source of money invested.

Akasha bought several homes in his lifetime, including a villa in Nyali, a farm in Shanzu and a house in Whispers Estate, a posh Nairobi suburb. The Nyali house was a favorite because it was close to the sea and was in a prime, mostly private location. Ibrahim Akasha lived large, and was a member of the Nyali Golf and Country Club. Former neighbors of the drug lord recall gawking at the new shiny vehicles that would drive out of the compound at the height of the don’s reign. Most of them didn’t have license plates, and their owners were Rolex-wearing big spenders. In Mombasa, the name Akasha came to be identified with fear, money, and immense power.

He had political and economic connections, and links within the banking industry that made it incredibly easy to put his millions in the financial system. From the late 1980s, Asian bankers had begun a spree, opening up small banks that would eventually collapse with liquidity or corruption issues, or both. With money flowing from all directions, from drugs to arms and government kickbacks, the next decade was a busy year for Kenya’s banking industry.

It’s said that men of Akasha’s ilk funded the 1992 KANU victory in the elections, using their extensive connections and deep pockets to get Moi the win he needed. The Moi campaign was marked by an unprecedented flow of cash, despite the economy grinding to a halt. One of his main campaigners became synonymous with the Shs. 500 bob note, which seemed to be the only denomination he gave away. The underworld stood to gain from a Moi victory, and would spend the next decade expanding their businesses, keeping their heads low and safe by roping in key KANU men.

At least one other presidential candidate in the 1992 elections, John Harun Mwau, used helicopters in the campaigns for the first time in Kenyan history. In the decades after, the incredibly wealthy former police sharpshooter would be listed by the US government as a drug lord, triggering a series of suits to clear his name.

A view of two brothels in a small street in Amsterdam’s Red-light district, also known as the “Wallen”.. Source

***

The Akasha drug empire in Kenya was built on access and ruthlessness. He had access to almost all layers of Kenyan government, and effectively controlled the port of Mombasa in the decade before he died. The Kroll Report mentions the Akasha clan in page 59 as being one of the most important business associates of Phillip Moi, one of the sons of Kenya’s second president.

Another source of critical information on the Akasha business model is the judicial inquiry into the conduct of Justice Philip Waki, a Court of Appeal judge, in 2004. Three witnesses openly confessed to having seen or heard of Akasha’s connection with Waki in Mombasa as early as 1994. Two of them, in the process, confessed to being part of Ibrahim Akasha’s drug empire. One, Festus Ngolwa M’Iburi, had climbed up the ranks from a houseboy to the transport manager in the main business, but was by 2004 a miraa farmer in Meru.

Another witness, Khurshid Butt, was a contractor who had renovated the Akasha house in 1994, only to be abducted and beaten by Akasha and his sons when he went to claim the balance owed. In 1995, the Akasha made their most brazen abduction; that of an Assistant Commissioner of Police called Price Kalume Chai. Kalume went to the Nyali house to question them about an abduction, only to be disarmed and held hostage for more than three hours.

He didn’t speak of it until three years after Ibrahim Akasha died. At the time, in 2003, Kalume said Akasha had seemed to know a lot about him in their three hours together. His silence, despite climbing the ranks of the police force, suggests that the fear of the godfather was still present, and now embodied by his erratic sons.

Such access and power made Ibrahim Akasha many friends and enablers, but it also attracted some powerful enemies.

In Bart Kibati’s “The Memoirs of a Kenyan Spymaster” he speaks about leading a raid on Ibrahim Akasha. Kibati, the top spy in the Coast at the time, was informed by his Nairobi counterpart Kassim Rashid that Akasha was a member of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and was planning a terrorist attack. One of the PLO’s offshoots was the terror group behind the hijacking that triggered Operation Entebbe, and the terror groups had been blamed for at least one other known attack in Kenya. Kibati didn’t find anything linking Akasha, a Kenyan of Palestinian origin, with the Palestinian terror group.

Kibati says Akasha told him that Kassim was intimidating Arab businessmen across the country to show them how powerful he was. Although there aren’t clear links between Akasha and the PLO terrorists, it’s now common knowledge that terror is funded directly and indirectly by illegal trade such as the drug trade. Kibati’s attitude to Akasha, visible in the singular paragraph about the drug lord, intimate the Kenyan attitude to the man at the time. He was a businessman being harassed by a top spy, but his criminal activities were well known to everyone at the time.

Akasha survived by making friends more powerful than his enemies, ensuring he could have insider knowledge to intimidate anyone who came after him, and to stay from trouble.

During the February 2000 sting that netted tonnes of hashish, the food was still hot on the table when the officers stormed the house. The Akasha clan in the house had clearly been warned, similar to a near miss a few years earlier of Felicien Kabuga, a prominent Rwandan genocide suspect. Police officers found a note from one of their own in Kabuga’s hideout, warning the fugitive of the raid.

To stay away from the limelight, Akasha bribed and muscled his way from headlines.

Before he was arrested in 1996, at least one Mombasa-based journalist had been arrested and charged under the Penal Code for investigating him.

***

Ibrahim Akasha’s body landed in Mombasa on May 13th 2000, 10 days after he died, to the first signs of acrimony in his large family. He was a billionaire with an estate once estimated at USD 100 million, traversing several continents and, in most cases, hidden to even his own family.

In his lifetime, he had three wives: Karima, Hayat and Fatuma. Karima bore him three children: Habaab, Kamaldin and Hassan. In 1997, Habab was jailed in Tanzania for mandrax possession although he was released later. By the time Akasha died, he had divorced Karima.

Gazi Hayat bore Akasha Najma, Nurdin ‘Tinta’, Durzia, Feisal and Abdalla. Hayat was Egyptian, and it was she who would hold him as the don as he died on a cold Amsterdam street in May 2000. It’s unclear whether Hayat accompanied Akasha because the two middlemen he was dealing with in the Netherlands were also Egyptian.

Fatuma bore him his favorite son Baktash, and Warda and Ibrahim, named for his father.

Baktash, a burly baby-faced man, served as one of his father’s closest men, and his bodyguard. He was also heir apparent, much to the chagrin of his brothers and stepmothers.

Among the many things the Akashas became known for after the death of their godfather were public fights, accusations and counter-accusations, and mysterious deaths.

The first death was Kamaldin in 2002.

Although they first blamed Tinta, the Akasha’s soon found two other suspects. One, Stojanovic Milan, a Serb, was a neighbor of the Akasha’s in Nyali at the time. The other was a Kenyan called Jackson Waweru. The Akasha sons waylaid them in November 2004 as they made their way to Nairobi from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. In a bizarre case of citizen’s arrest involving a mafia family, they chased the car down, pulled them out, and drove them to the Grand Regency at gunpoint. Then they took them to Central Police Station where the two were charged with Kamaldin’s murder.

Milan and Waweru were acquitted in 2007, five years after Kamaldin’s death. They sued the Akasha family for Shs. 1 billion in compensation.

Kamaldin’s death, like his father’s, remains unsolved.

In the years after Kamaldin’s death, a witness, Ghani Taib, told the inquiry into Waki that it was Kamaldin and not Tinta who had snitched on their father in late 1999. Since the death remains unsolved, it is unclear whether he was killed in revenge for betraying his estranged father. The betrayal had made Ibrahim Akasha an international fugitive, hunted by Interpol, and Baktash had been arrested.

Another two deaths followed in the Akasha clan in the decade after. In 2007, one of Akasha’s grandchildren crawled to a pool and drowned during a police raid. Three years later, Saud, Baktash’s wife, was found hanging by a thin rope in their Nyali house.

Baktash was also included in the inquest into the death of British tycoon Harry Veevers. Harry died on Valentine’s Day 2013 in Nyali of suspected poisoning. His son Richard told the inquest that Baktash had threatened him with a gun, telling him to stop investigating his father’s death.

The latest news involving this intriguing, dark clan began in 2015 after Baktash and his younger brother and right-hand man Ibrahim were indicted by a New York court. They had been caught planning a new drug route to the United States with two partners, an Indian and a Pakistani.

Baktash later blamed the sting on his brother Tinta, following in what had become a clear cleavage in the Akasha clan. The US government stated its intentions to charge the new leaders of the Akasha clan with supplying and organising the supply of massive quantities of heroin into the North American country. The indictment triggered now-stalled extradition proceedings.

The would-be client, an undercover DEA agent, had gotten into the circle by portraying himself as a wealthy player in the underworld, with wads of cash and talk of a private jet.

The Akashas were in the news again after that, this time because of the Indian partner in the case. Vicky Goswami, a former pilot and a drug kingpin from the 1990s, had perfected a smuggling system where he sent five cases of mandrax per day from Mumbai to Cape Town on planes. He was later arrested and jailed in Dubai. After his release, he moved to Kenya and kept a relatively low profile until he was arrested during the DEA-led sting in Nyali.

In 2016, Indian police traced several massive hauls of ephedrine, the controlled substance that’s the primary ingredient in making methamphetamine, an illegal recreational drug, to Goswami. The Indian, now wanted in two countries and facing charges in the third, disowned it. A large cache of the drugs had been intended for Kenya, where Goswami and his partners were in advanced stages of a plan to build a factory in Kenya to manufacture 93 percent pure meth. Indian police suspected the Akasha brothers were primary partners here too, and were said to be considering adding them to the charge sheet.

***

Almost every drug haul in Kenya the last fifteen years, and there have been many, have had suspected links to the new dons of the Akasha Clan. Although there are now new players in the business, most of whom cut their teeth under the elder Ibrahim Akasha, the Clan remains one of the primary players.

Among the hauls is the cocaine captured in 2004 which ended up in a mire of controversy and brutal deaths. The capture of the haul was followed by the entry of Artur Margrayan and Artur Sargasyan, two Armenian brothers infamous in the criminal underworld, into Kenya fifteen months later. Their presence was meant to solve the problem of the multi-billion shilling drug haul, but it ended up in several mysterious events. Among them included claims that the Armenians were assassins, and they were suspected to have led the police-raid on Standard Group.

The Armenians, freelance muscle for Russian and Armenian mobs, first visited Kenya in 1999. They had come to intercede with their Kenyan links to either pay up or face an all-out war for a consignment that had been captured by the police. Events followed a near similar pattern in 2006. This time, according to US Embassy documents leaked on Wikileaks, they were hired in Dubai by two Kenyans to clean up the drug mess.

The Arturs used a blue Mercedes Benz owned by the Akasha Clan. The new don was said to be a constant visitor to their Runda villa where the brothers hosted lavish, high class parties. Alot had changed by 2006, with new power networks allowing the Arturs far more access and support than they had had seven years earlier. They got unprecedented access, even designations as Assistant Commissioners of police with access to restricted areas in airports. This had happened at least one known time a year or so earlier with several Italian Mafioso, but the Arturs got the most publicity.

When they had first come to Kenya, Ibrahim Akasha was the most senior don of the Kenyan underworld. He would die a few months later on a cold street in Amsterdam, thousands of kilometers away from home, a fugitive from the law and dead weight to his partners.

Owaahh, 2016.

One story is good,

till Another is told.

  • Drwawifi

    Some of the former/current NSIS spies need to shed some light on the Kenya underworld by leaking information online on these drug barons/corruption lords/big land grabbers…..we need to be aware to so that one can avoid dealing with them and helping their nefarious activities unknowingly.

  • Anna Mumbi Kamau

    Owaaahhh! what a great a read! Waiting for the sequel… Sad to say this but drugs have became a cancerous tumor that will devour the country unless there is is politicl will that goes beyond greed , driven love of country and our children… Anti-drug stand should be part of the platform of anybody running for office, winning is not everything if we loose our youth iand our institution n the process.

  • Naomi Aginga

    Love this piece, though there is a lot of repetition. Refrain from it as it makes the article seem incomplete and less. Researched.

  • vic

    always intriguing…there should be a part 2 focusing on the sons’ reign as drug kingpins and how the extradition to NY took place…

  • Peter Njonjo

    Loved it. Your writing is on point. Ended abruptly though. What happened to the actors…the legacy..

  • Whoa! I loved the article, as I do every Owaahh story.

  • David Mabiria

    To get the book mentioned above, ‘Memoirs of a Kenyan Spymaster’. Visit theMagunga Bookstore & order for only Ksh 1,500 >> https://www.books.magunga.com/store/memoirs-kenyan-spymaster-by-bart-joseph-kibati/

  • Kigali Girl

    would be mighty helpful to use infographics… just intriguing nail biting stuff!

  • Andrew

    Didn’t get halfway through. This story has no clear flow. The writing is very disjointed.

    • Thank you for the feedback Andrew, I agree with you on narrative flow issues and have restructured parts of it.

  • Gin

    This is clearly not the best piece that I’ve read on this site.

    Cut out the fluff, the fillers, and the repetitions and you have like two paragraphs worth of information stretched out into a lengthy and strangely non-chronological piece.

    • Anne

      My sentiments exactly

      • Thank you for the feedback Anne.

    • Thank you for the feedback @jinomoja:disqus