On May 11th, 2023, the New York South District Court before U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods sentenced the last member of the “Enterprise”. It culminated an over six year joint operation between U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Ugandan NGO, Natural Resources Conservation Network (NRCN). Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and The Eagle Network had a hand in during the early days.
Abdi Hussein Ahmed, a Kenyan national, was arrested on August 1, 2022, the last member of the indicted hierarchy to fall. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail for conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to traffic 10 kg of heroin. Both sentences were to run concurrently from the date of his arrest.
The initial 2019 U.S. Department of Justice press release labeled Kromah and his co-accused’s as “members of a transnational criminal enterprise”. The evidence, however, suggests that this was considerably understated and in all likelihood Kromah and his “enterprise” were one of the biggest suppliers of ivory and illegal wildlife on the African continent in the past decade. In February 2017, Kromah, along with his son’s, Kourouma Bangaly and Mohamed Kourouma, were arrested in a fortified compound and found with 437 pieces of ivory weighing in at 1.3 tonnes. NRCN and UWA, who made the arrest, described Kromah at the time as “the center of a vast ring of organized crime criminals….connected to at least four other major criminal syndicates in Africa…..supplying rhino horn and ivory to the biggest wildlife criminal syndicates worldwide”.
A fifth Kenyan national, Badou Abdul Aziz Saleh, was apparently added to the 5 count indictment and arrested in Kenya on May 30th, 2022 and extradited thereafter.
The breakdown in sentencing is as follows:
Moazu Kromah: Pleaded guilty to Count 1: Conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, Count’s 2 and 3 relating to the specific sale of rhino horn to a U.S. buyer, and Count 4: Conspiracy to commit money laundering. He received a sentence of 5 years and 3 months from the date of his arrest in June 2019.
Amara Cherif: Pleaded guilty to Count 1: Conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, Count’s 2 and 3 relating to the specific sale of rhino horn to a U.S. buyer, and Count 4: Conspiracy to commit money laundering. He received a total sentence of 4 years and 9 months from the date of his arrest in June 2019.
Mohamed Mohamed Mansur: Pleaded guilty to Count 1: Conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking and Count 5: conspiracy to traffic 10 kg of heroin. He received a sentence of 4 years and 6 months on each charge, running concurrently from the date of his arrest in July 2020.
Abdi Hussein Ahmed: Pleaded guilty to Count 1: Conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking and Count 5: conspiracy to traffic 10 kg of heroin. He received a sentence of 4 years on each charge, running concurrently from the date of his arrest in August 2020.
Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh: Pleaded guilty to the only charge he was facing; conspiracy to traffic 10 kg of heroin. He was sentenced to 3 years 6 months jail from the time of his 2022 arrest.
It is perhaps of note that it was the three Kenyan nationals who faced the conspiracy to commit drug trafficking charge. In the U.S. courts, that charge normally has 10 years jail as a mandatory minimum with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. As described by Matthew Lee Russell of Inner City Press who covered all proceedings, a “safety valve” application was made in relation to the drug charge which significantly reduced the sentence. No explanation has been given for reduction.
The sentences handed down by District Judge Gregory H. Woods and prosecuted by the U.S. Justice department have not been without controversy. From the U.S. criminal justice system point of view, a “loud and clear message”, was sent that such large-scale wildlife trafficking warranted serious consequences and those “responsible for the decimation of global populations of endangered and threatened animals protected by international agreements will face serious consequences.”
From the African and Asian perspective, the sentenced meted out to the prime suppliers of ivory and rhino horn from Africa for the last 10 years was far too light. In a decision made just last week, Senior Resident Magistrate Boaz Ombewa of Kahawa law courts (Nairobi) handed down a 7 year jail sentence to Tanzanian national, Morris Mure Kadilii, for attempting to sell 38 kg of ivory.