Baha, meanwhile, was doing well, apart from the investigations in distant Germany and the minder of his partners in crime left. He was now 25, living mostly in California, had married and was active in real estate with his aunt and cousin.
Baha broke off contact with prosecutors in Cologne in the summer of 2011, after six months of negotiations. But his file continued to thicken. In January 2014, the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany’s equivalent of the FBI, entered the fray and contacted the US authorities. Prosecutors in Cologne wrote a second, detailed arrest warrant that ran to 90 pages.
On 31 March, 2014, the German authorities received a tipoff. The US Department of Homeland Security sent a message to the BKA, saying that Baha had just boarded Emirates flight 255 at Dubai international airport’s Terminal 3. The 15-hour flight to San Francisco departed Dubai at 8.26am. US law enforcement would need an international arrest warrant issued by Germany to take him into custody.
With the plane in the air, German officials had just five hours to translate the warrant and file it with their US counterparts. Tight, but they made it. Just when Baha presented himself at passport control in San Francisco, he was immediately arrested.
Baha was transferred to the Santa Clara county prison in San José neighbourhood (rated 2.4/5 stars on Google). It was not what he’d become used to. His daily diary entries talk of an overcrowded prison cell shared with twelve other detainees, most of them drug addicts. There was only one toilet and the water from the tap was brown. Baha’s skin was soon covered in rashes and boils. He wrote about his fears and how he joined one of the prison gangs to feel safer.
One year on, after a US judge granted extradition, three BKA agents come to collect him. On 13 April, 2015, they accompanied him to Frankfurt onboard Lufthansa flight 455. Returning to Germany for the first time in years, Baha had with him some lip balm, credit cards and his precious hand-written notes, amongst other items. And a special edition Audemars Piguet Royal Oak luxury watch, retail price approximately €60,000.
The trial 12 months later in a Cologne court lasted 14 days. All four defendants pleaded guilty. Baha’s evidence was helpful in securing convictions in the Deutsche Bank cases.
On 14 April, 2016, Baha himself was sentenced to five years and six months in jail on 47 counts of tax fraud, and of abetting tax fraud in another 22 cases. The German state was able to recover €5 million of the illicit gains run up by schemes involving companies controlled by Baha. That’s €5 million out of €40 million according to the indictment and against other estimates of up to €110 million.
The judge described the lenient sentence as appropriate given that Baha had shown himself to be cooperative and remorseful, and had been coerced into the crimes by others. The verdict stated that Baha was initially susceptible to financial inducement at a young age and later on was pressured into organized crime due to financial difficulties.
With two years in pre-trial detention, after just three months, Baha was once more a free man. German law enforcement is unsure of his current whereabouts. But Instagram provides a few clues as to how he has been enjoying his freedom, with selfies from the Champs-Elysées in Paris, safari trips in Kenya, New Year parties in Hong Kong and more nightlife in Las Vegas.
In all, Baha personally had effectively paid back €500,000 to the German state. His bank balance, it seems, is still sufficient to allow him the same kind of lifestyle he had during the peak years of his VAT carousel life of crime.