Kenya: How Baktash Akasha's Plea for Lenient Jail Term Failed

Confessed international drug trafficker Baktash Akasha made a moving confession in a US court on Friday, expressing remorse for his past deeds and pleading for a lesser sentence.

In a direct attempt to persuade Judge Victor Marrero to act with "mercy", Baktash rose in court to offer apologies for his violations of US law.

GUILTY PLEA

"I am truly guilty of these crimes, and I stand ashamed," he said while reading from a written statement he had prepared.

"I only have myself to blame," Baktash added, his voice quavering at times during his five-minute plea for a sentence closer to a 10-year minimum term than to the maximum of life behind bars.

"I need to change who I am as a person," he added, his chin slumping toward the neckline of his beige prison uniform.

Baktash voiced remorse for "the harm I have done not only to myself but to all those who love me".

And he acknowledged, "I have denied myself so many precious moments I should have had with my family."

The murders of his father and one of his brothers "changed my life for the worst," Baktash said. "I truly wish I could turn back the clock knowing what I know now."

His lawyer George Goltzer, in his own presentation to the court, said Baktash had "supported scores of people" in Kenya for many years. "They love him," the lawyer declared.

LIFE TERM

Fishermen in Mombasa were among Baktash's beneficiaries, Mr Goltzer added. If they were having a bad season, Baktash "helped them out".

The seasoned attorney conceded that his client had committed serious crimes for which he should be punished.

"He was greedy. He made terrible choices, but you can't compare him to the kind of criminal who caused hundreds of thousands of overdoses in the US," Mr Goltzer told the judge.

The attorney referred specifically to Mexican narcotics kingpin El Chapo "who caused mayhem in the United States" and who deserved the life term in a "supermax" prison to which he had recently been sentenced.

None of the heroin that Baktash hoped to smuggle into the US ever reached that destination, Mr Goltzer noted. "Mr Akasha is a very complex human being - not some sociopath who kills on whim," Mr Goltzer said.

He noted "it is very unusual" in the Manhattan federal court district for a plea of guilty to result in a life sentence. Mr Goltzer said that during the course of his career he had "represented scores of people charged with murder, and many did not get anything close to life sentences".

US prosecutors sought during a hearing last month to link Baktash to the 2014 contract murder in South Africa of a drug gangster identified as Pinky.

WIFE'S MURDER

Judge Marrero appeared at the conclusion of the July 25-26 session to have accepted that claim.

Baktash "may have had an evil heart, but he did not have the capacity to kill anybody in South Africa", Mr Goltzer said on Friday in response to the prosecution's Pinky claim. "He didn't kill anybody in Kenya," the attorney added.

That assertion stood in contrast to the prosecutors' accusation that Baktash had murdered his second wife. The US government's lawyers had not offered any direct evidence in support of that claim, nor was Baktash formally charged in the US with any homicides.

"Baktash Akasha never harmed his second wife," Mr Goltzer said in a rising voice. "Anybody who claims he did is a liar. It's a slander."

The attorney added that his client "feels terrible about his brother" Ibrahim who has also pleaded guilty to the US prosecution's charges.

"He didn't want his brother to take responsibility for anything he did. He thinks his brother should be sentenced to less time."

Ibrahim is scheduled to learn his fate in Judge Marrero's courtroom on November 8. His defence attorney, Dawn Cardi, said on Friday that she expects Ibrahim to be given a 15-year sentence.

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