This week, four men arrested in Kenya for heroin and methamphetamine trafficking arrived in the United States to face justice. The arrests of the “Akasha Four” in 2014 are the result of a sting operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which identified the Akasha organization as a major trafficker of heroin and methamphetamines to Europe and the United States.
The four were arrested at the request of the United States and were arraigned Tuesday in the Southern District Court of New York on charges of narcotics importation and conspiracy to import heroin and methamphetamines into the United States.
Bringing the Akashas to New York is a significant step toward bringing these criminals to justice. This is a win not only in the war on drugs, but also in the fight to end wildlife trafficking. In addition to narcotics trafficking, the Akasha organization has been linked to more than 30 tons of ivory seizures since 2013. The investigation by the Satao Project interviewed dozens of sources and examined telephone data, commercial and customs records, and a DNA study by geneticist Dr. Sam Wasser.
To see the “Akasha Four” on their way to the United States to stand trial is a great victory for anti-wildlife-trafficking efforts in Kenya and East Africa.
Wildlife and environmental crime is the fastest growing and third most pervasive international crime, behind narcotics and munitions. Around Africa and Asia, drug trafficking syndicates like the Akashas have diversified into trafficking persons, guns, and ivory, moving tens of millions of dollars in illegal products every year. Investigators have linked these syndicates to several multiple-ton ivory seizures in the past two years alone.
In Kenya, transnational organized crime has taken a devastating toll on the economy and on national security. Criminal networks are exploiting the Kenyan banking, shipping, and logistics apparatus and are major contributors towards the extinction of elephants in Kenya and the region.
Organized crime and corruption remain the leading factors driving wildlife crime in East Africa. The ICCF Group is helping to bring ivory issues to the forefront of policymakers’ agendas at the highest levels of the U.S. and Kenyan governments. The Parliamentary Conservation Caucus – Kenya Chapter (PCC-K), with the support of The ICCF Group, is building political will to galvanize Kenya and the U.S. to take action in cases like that of the Akashas.
In 2013, leadership of the PCC-K introduced an historic emergency amendment to the Kenya Wildlife Conservation & Management Bill, 2013 to significantly increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife. In July 2015, The ICCF Group and experts in the prosecution and conviction of international crime hosted an East Africa Regional Judiciary/Law Enforcement Workshop on Wildlife/Environmental Crime in Nairobi, Kenya, designed to improve the capacity of judges, local magistrates, prosecutors, customs officials, and law enforcement officials in the fight against wildlife crime. In the Fall of 2016, ICCF Kenya and the PCC-K held a briefing on the links between transnational organized crime and ivory trafficking, which brought together speakers from the Centre on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crimes (CINTOC), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (USDEA), UNOPS, Interpol, the Kenyan Police Authority, the U.S. Embassy, UNDP, UNEP, USAID, and Chairs of the Portfolio Committees in the Kenyan Parliament. That meeting resulted in high-level efforts by Kenyan lawmakers to get the Akashas handed over to the United States.