(Reuters) - Two brothers, accused by U.S. prosecutors of playing key roles in a major Kenyan crime family called the Akasha organization, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to U.S. drug trafficking charges in New York.
Baktash Akasha, 41, and his brother Ibrahim Akasha, 29, each pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan to seven criminal charges, including distribution of heroin and methamphetamine and conspiracy to import the drugs into the United States, according to court records.
The charges carry a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life.
George Goltzer, Baktash Akasha’s lawyer, declined to comment. A lawyer for Ibrahim Akasha could not immediately be reached.
The case stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha organization, which U.S. authorities described as a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and U.S. cities.
The brothers were extradited to the United States from Kenya in January 2017 along with Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national charged with heading a drug transportation network, and Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the Akasha organization’s drug business.
The four defendants were arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2014 in a U.S.-led sting operation, in which authorities said the Akasha organization provided 99 kilograms of heroin and two kilograms of methamphetamine to DEA informants posing as drug traffickers.
Hussein and Goswami pleaded not guilty to related charges after they were extradited. They have not appeared at recent court hearings or filed pre-trial motions, court records show. Lawyers representing them could not immediately be reached, and Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, declined to comment on the status of their cases.
A fifth defendant accused of working with the Akasha organization, Muhammad Asif Hafeez, was arrested in London in August 2017. The United States has requested his extradition. [nL2N1LB1DP]
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, has said the Akasha network was also linked to around 30 tons of ivory seizures. U.S. prosecutors have said Baktash Akasha was the leader of the organization.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Editing by Anthony Lin and Bernadette Baum