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(L-R) Baktash Akasha, Gulam Hussein, Ibrahim Akasha and Vijaygiri Goswami are briefed by their lawyer Cliff Ombeta at Mombasa Law Courts during a court appearance on drug-related charges in Mombasa February 17, 2015. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga(reuters_tickers)
By David Lewis and Katharine Houreld
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Four men charged with directing a major heroin trafficking ring have been extradited to the United States from Kenya, a law enforcement official and an investigator told Reuters on Tuesday, in what officials say is a major blow to East Africa's cartels.
Baktash Akasha and his brother Ibrahim were arrested two years ago in Kenya along with two other men, Gulam Hussein and Vijaygiri Goswami, in a U.S.-led sting operation.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spent years infiltrating the "Akasha organization," which it alleges is a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the cities of Europe and the United States.
The four men have been flown to the United States, the official and investigator said. They declined to give further details and asked not to be named because the case is ongoing.
The four men were out on bail from charges brought in a Kenyan court when senior police officers from the counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics units in Nairobi arrested them in the coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday, their lawyer Cliff Ombeta said. The four had been fighting their extradition.
The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, according to U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks.
The Satao Project, a private company focused on fighting poaching, said the Akashas' network was also linked to around 30 tons of ivory seizures.
Indian businessman Goswami had spent more than a decade in a Dubai jail for drug trafficking. Hussein, also known as the "Old Man", is "the head of a transportation network that distributes massive quantities of narcotics throughout the Middle East and Africa", according to an indictment in a New York court.
As well as the heroin charges, U.S. prosecutors have charged the Akashas and Goswami with conspiracy to import methamphetamines, according to the indictment. Lawyer Ombeta said his clients were innocent of any wrongdoing.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)