Kenya: Drugs Trade - State to Blacklist Firms

The government is all set to blacklist various businesses associated with drug dealers in the coming weeks in a new push to vanquish the cartels that have been operating under the guise of legal business. It will also continue to demand stringent measures on gambling.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i told the Nation that the names of blacklisted drug-related businesses will be published in a gazette notice - a move that will expose drug trafficking organisations that profit from suffering of families.

"I have the list with me and we shall blacklist these organisations in a few weeks," said Dr Matiang'i in an interview.

The twin problems of drugs and gambling have been Dr Matiangi's waking nightmare in President Kenyatta's government.

It will be the first time in a decade that the government will go public on organisations that are associated with drug cartels - ever since former Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, in December 2010, named six Members of Parliament and a Mombasa tycoon in connection with the drugs trade.

Bribery campaign

Mombasa has for years been the regional epicentre of the drugs trade and attempts to end the menace have always been met by a pushback by the cartels - once the operational base for Akasha Ibrahim Abdalla, a Kenyan of Palestinian origin and whose family took over his narcotics business after he was shot dead in Europe.

Akasha's two sons, Ibrahim and Baktash, would later be arrested in 2014, but attempts by the prosecution to have them extradited were frustrated in the courts. A US court was later told that the Akashas "engaged in a rampant bribery campaign to delay their proceedings, avoid extradition and obstruct justice".

The Akasha brothers were arrested in Mombasa on January 28, 2017, while out on bail, and on January 30, they were moved to the US into the custody of US Drug Enforcement Agency personnel to answer to trafficking charges.

Although Dr Matiang'i could not reveal whether the government is still following the associates of the now jailed brothers, he left no doubt that the matter has not rested.

"Serious joint action is going on at the moment... But I cannot comment on that," he said.

Ever since the two Akasha brothers were picked up and flown to the US to face charges of plotting to smuggle 98 kilos of heroin and a smaller quantity of methamphetamine into the United States - where they pleaded guilty - focus has been on their accomplices who benefited from their drug empire.

Justice system

Also, focus has been on the justice system, which saw the two brothers and their two accomplices - Indian national Vijaygiri Goswami and Pakistani citizen Gulam Hussein - frustrate efforts to extradite them for more than two years.

Last year, after meeting Mombasa leaders, Dr Matiang'i had promised to start a "painful exercise" to rid the island of drug cartels.

In an interview with the Nation, Dr Matiang'i revealed some of the drug cartels fled the country after he promised Mombasa leaders last year that they would see results. "I have told the leaders that we are commencing an unprecedented effort to deal with the issue of drug peddling in Mombasa."

Dr Matiang'i now says that the previous laxity within the police in dealing with cartels has been shed.

The survival of the drug cartels was always blamed on corruption within the police force, which for years shielded the ring-leaders from investigation and prosecution. Also, it was blamed on corruption within the Judiciary.

In yet another move, the CS says the government's resolve to end the "gambling menace is decisive".

Destroyed youth

"Gambling almost destroyed our youth," says the CS about a multibillion-shilling industry that was run, at times, by shadowy characters.

"People who had committed crimes in their own countries came here and set up shop," says Dr Matiang'i.

The crackdown on the betting industry in 2019 brought to a halt an industry that was run by the wealthy and politically correct individuals in cahoots with some eastern and western European entities - mostly registered in tax havens.

It also led to the deportation of several individuals and confiscation and destruction of gambling machines in both urban and rural areas.

"Any betting must follow laid-down protocols," says the CS, who became the face of a crackdown that saw leading betting firms Sportpesa and Betin close shop.

Some British gambling companies had been criticised in the UK Parliament for using subtle promotional techniques to lure Africa's youth into gambling addiction.

The government had, at first, attempted to curb the vice by slapping a 35 per cent tax, but the excise tax was later removed through the Finance Act 2020. Treasury later said the government had not reneged on its commitment to heavily tax the betting industry.

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