Akashas: Witness claims on murder ‘likely to sway judge’

The US judge presiding over the Akasha brothers’ drug-trafficking case suggested on Friday that he accepts a witness’ claim that Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha were involved in plotting the murder of a South African narcotics trafficker.

Judge Victor Marrero said at the conclusion of a two-hour court session that he was “inclined” to believe witness Vijay Goswami’s account of the 2014 contract killing of the drug dealer identified only as Pinky.

The judge’s view of this matter will prove decisive in determining whether Baktash and Ibrahim spend the rest of their lives in a US maximum-security prison. The brothers have already confessed to conspiring to smuggle quantities of heroin and methamphetamine into the United States. They have also pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by bribing numerous – and so far unnamed – Kenyan officials.

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SENTENCES

It is now solely up to Judge Marrero to decide what length of sentences to impose on the Akashas. US federal court guidelines in a case such as this one call for prison terms ranging from 10 years to life without parole.

US prosecutors had summoned Goswami as the sole

witness in a special two-day hearing intended primarily to persuade Judge Marrero that Ibrahim in particular had directly engaged in violence or arranged for it to be inflicted. The prosecution wants Ibrahim to be seen as deserving of a maximum sentence.

Despite Judge Marrero’s comments on Friday favouring the prosecution’s case, defence attorneys for Baktash and Ibrahim said following the court session that they think it unlikely that their respective clients will be sentenced to life.

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In brief interviews with the Nation, the two lawyers posed the possibility Judge Marrero could be swayed by mitigating circumstances to choose lesser sentences.

WITNESS PROTECTION

Dawn Cardi, the attorney for 30-year-old Ibrahim Akasha, added that she believes her client will receive a lesser sentence than will 42-year-old Baktash. She said Ibrahim has been shown to have played a lesser role in the brothers’ drug-trafficking organisation.

Uncertainties as to the Akashas’ fate will be dispelled at sentencing sessions now scheduled to take place on August 16 for Baktash and on November 8 for Ibrahim.

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Friday’s hearing in a wood-panelled, 15th-floor courtroom with sweeping views of the downtown Manhattan skyline consisted mostly of sparring between defence lawyers and US prosecutors regarding Goswami’s credibility.

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