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Carlin15 01-14-2019 11:49 PM

Kings of cocaine: how the Albanian mafia seized control of the UK drugs trade
Mark Townsend
Sun 13 Jan 2019

[B][SIZE="3"]Kings of cocaine: how the Albanian mafia seized control of the UK drugs trade[/SIZE][/B]


[SIZE="3"]‘They’re sophisticated, clever – and they always deliver’: from the ports of Europe to the streets of London, one criminal network is now at the top of the UK’s £5bn trade[/SIZE]

Something had kicked off the night before and the guys on the corner were keen to offer advice. “You don’t want to be hanging around here too long,” one said, refusing to elaborate. They were standing near Crispe house, a tower block on east London’s Gascoigne estate, undisputed territory of Hellbanianz.

The gang, an Albanian street crew of drug dealers, is known locally for its violence and more widely for a social media output featuring Ferraris, wads of £50 notes and gold Rolex watches to help enhance its reputation and recruit “youngers”. The Gascoigne estate, built in the 1960s and occupying land that slopes south of Barking town centre to the Thames, is its historical home turf.

It was getting dark, another two men appeared and, when asked if they were Hellbanianz, one said: “You should go.” The Observer was escorted off the estate and told not to return.

Hellbanianz belong to the “retail game” of the cocaine trade. They are the street dealers and enforcers of the Mafia Shqiptare, the Albanian organised criminal syndicates who, the National Crime Agency believe, are consolidating power within the UK criminal underworld and on their way to a near total takeover of the UK’s £5bn cocaine market.

The gang’s glossily produced trap music videos remind viewers “HB are ready for violence” and that they possess the requisite manpower and firearms. Yet, police sources say, Hellbanianz occupy the lowest rung of the Albanian mafia.

To better understand the Albanians’ remarkable rise in the UK one might climb to the 12th floor of the Gascoigne estate’s high-rise blocks. From there, the skyline of London, where much of their cocaine will be snorted, stretches west. In the opposite direction, several miles along the Thames, lie the mammoth container ports where their cocaine is offloaded in multi-kilo shipments. But it is across the Atlantic, to the jungles of Latin America, where the story of the Mafia Shqiptare starts.

[B]How Albanians came to conquer the UK’s cocaine market is a lesson in criminal savvy; the value of making friends with the world’s most dangerous mafias; and the absolute threat of violence.[/B]

It began with a business model that was simple in concept, but sufficiently bold to subvert the existing order. For years cocaine’s international importers worked separately from its wholesalers and the gangs. Pricing structure varied, depending on the drug’s purity; the higher it was, the more it cost.

The Albanians ditched the entire model. [B]They began negotiating directly with the Colombian cartels who control coca production[/B]. Huge shipments were arranged direct from South America. Supply chains were kept in-house.

Intelligence obtained by British experts revealed that the Albanians were procuring cocaine from the cartels for about £4,000 to £5,500 a kilo, at a time when rivals thought they were getting a decent deal using Dutch wholesalers selling at £22,500 a kilo. The Albanians lowered the price of cocaine – and increased its purity. More massive consignments were brought into the UK.

Tony Saggers, the former head of drugs threat and intelligence at the National Crime Agency, who has spent 30 years analysing the rhythms of the global narcotics economy, said: “What they have done very intelligently is say: ‘OK, we’ve got these margins to play with and we’re going to give a good slice of that to the customer.’”

The Albanian effect has profoundly shaped the use, production and economy of cocaine. The drug is at its cheapest in the UK since 1990 and purer than it has been for a decade, which has caused record fatalities. The UK has the highest number of young users in Europe. More broadly, far bigger and more frequent shipments of the drug have been seized entering the UK as cocaine production in south America has hit record levels - up 31% on 2016.

Rivals to the Albanian gangs like Hellbanianz initially struggled to compete because they had an inferior, more expensive product. Their only option has been to buy cocaine sourced from the Mafia Shqiptare.

Saggers said: “They have shown that you don’t have to be greedy to dominate drug markets. They’ve gone down the route of sustainable prices, good quality.”

Mohammed Qasim, a research fellow at Leeds Beckett University who studys drug dealers, described the Albanian business approach as “fantastic”, adding: “If they were on Dragon’s Den with this model, all the dragons would be giving them money.”

Yet for the Albanians’ model to truly work it required control of Europe’s ports. For that the Mafia Shqiptare needed to collaborate with the ‘Ndrangheta, the most powerful and globalised of the Italian mafias, which controls mainland Europe’s cocaine trade.

There is considerable evidence that not only are the Albanians working with the ‘Ndrangheta, but that they have formed the tightest of alliances. Sources say the Italian mafia consider the Albanians as equals. Saggers said: “There’s a strong Italian-organised mafia link with Albanians now, Albanians are working with them – not in competition with them. Plus, historically, the Italians have good contacts in Latin America.”

Rotterdam in the Netherlands is Europe’s largest seaport, with eight million containers passing through each year. Many arrive via the direct “Colombian express” route before crossing to Harwich in Essex or Hull.

The second busiest European port is Antwerp in Belgium, which connects to the Thames port of Tilbury, 15 miles from Hellbanianz territory.

Collectively, the Belgian and Dutch ports employ 240,000 people, a cohort of whom, police intelligence indicates, work for the ‘Ndrangheta and Mafia Shqiptare.

“This gives the Albanians based on the near continent, direct access and control of it [cocaine] at the ports,” said Saggers.

An NCA source described Belgium and the Netherlands as “key nexus points of consolidation and onward trafficking of illicit commodities” and confirmed Albanian groups were “expanding their influence upstream” – police-speak for strengthening their grip on international cocaine supply.

Anna Sergi, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Essex who specialises in mafia relationships, confirmed Albanians and the southern Italian crime group have joined forces. “Whenever the ‘Ndrangheta is shipping things over, they work a lot with the Albanians,” she said.

Last month Operation Pollino, named after the area of southern Italy where the ‘Ndrangheta has its roots, arrested 90 suspects. Anti-mafia prosecutors described how the ‘Ndrangheta relied on “permanent groups working in ports and harbours” along with Albanian criminal networks.

In 2017 an Albanian cocaine dealer was caught at a London petrol station with false Italian identification documents on his car and two kilos of the drug hidden in its boot.

The most vulnerable point for drug smugglers is the port of entry. Security is tight, options are finite. Sources say that the ‘Ndrangheta has outsourced this element of the supply chain to the Albanians.

“You need the best people to get it out of port. If you are good at moving things then you stay ahead of your competitors – and the Albanians are good at this,” said Sergi.

Yet even the most senior Albanians are caught sometimes. Klodjan Copja, 30, who ran a £60m cocaine imports syndicate, was jailed in 2017 after his couriers were intercepted meeting drug-laden lorries arriving in Kent.

One striking facet of what the NCA term the Albanians’ “increasing prominence” is their having – so far – avoided becoming embroiled in tit-for-tat feuds with rivals. The latest UK criminal threat assessment says that the Albanians are unusually skilled at developing relationships and “forging links with other OCGs [organised criminal gangs]”.

Such relationship-building has left Liverpool as the only part of England not routinely selling Albanian-sourced cocaine. Not only has the Merseyside port its own direct access to South America, Saggers says that its turf is jealously guarded by the city’s own criminal gangs.

Also working in the Albanians’ favour is their reputation for violence. Saggers says the backdrop of the Kosovo conflict has given them a swagger comparable to that of Irish criminals during and after the Troubles.

“They are quite charismatic and known to prioritise relationship-building rather than competitive feuds. Also, when you come from a country where there’s been conflict and you have a reputation for ruthlessness the charisma is underlined with an element of ‘actually, we do need to get on with these people’,” he said.

Qasim also points to how the Albanian are regarded in criminal circles. “They are sophisticated, professional and they do what they promise. They always deliver,” he said.

This has much to do with the Albanian code of besa – “to keep the promise” – but Sergi adds that the reputation of the Mafia Shqiptare must also be viewed through the ancestral code of kanun, the right to take revenge: that blood must pay with blood.

“You most trust the ones similar to you,” she said. The concept was meant to keep things internal, close.

Then the younger generation began making flashy videos and waving money around, and along came Hellbanianz.

The Gascoigne estate is bordered on its south and west by the A13 and the North Circular roads, urban bulwarks against neighbouring gangs such as Newham’s Beckton Black Squad.

In the mid-1990s the estate was run by white working-class crime families. “If you were black and went there you’d come out in an ambulance,” said David, a former resident.

Deprivation and drugs blighted the estate long before a Jamaican gang run by Delroy “the King” Lewis started a ruthlessly efficient 24-hour operation on the estate, selling crack cocaine and heroin.

Lewis was jailed in 2004 at a time when the estate’s Albanian population was growing through a new refugee crisis following fresh unrest in Kosovo, five years after the war there brought the first arrivals. [B]By the time of the 2011 census, Albanian was the second language on the estate[/B].

Soon after, Hellbanianz took over. Rookwood House, a five-minute walk from Barking Abbey, became their notional headquarters. Linked by interlocking walkways and limited access points, the tower block was easy to defend from police and rivals. It was seen in the video for Hellbanianz’s trap track Hood Life. But five months ago Rookwood House was knocked down as part of a sweeping regeneration project.

Locals say Hellbanianz has moved operations north, to a prime spot near the Kings Lounge pub. “They gather at 9pm, same faces, same lot,” one said. Some might recognise the faces from YouTube where Hellbanianz posts footage to try to lure “falcons” – fresh recruits - with shots of scantily clad women, wheel-spinning Bentleys and the ubiquitious wads of money.

Saggers said: “The retail market is the get-rich-quick environment. If they’re importing kilos for a few thousand dollars, imagine how much money those youngsters are turning over if they’re selling at £40 a gram?”

Before its account was closed in November, Hellbanianz had 115,000 Instagram followers. The video for Hood Life, which opens with a drone shot of the Gascoigne estate, has been watched more than 7.5m times. The gang’s lyrics discuss defending Barking with “kallash” (AK47s)– and dishing out threats to rival Albanian outfit OTR ( On Top Of The Rest) and a fair few others. Their latest video, released in late October 2018, states they are “ready for war”.

One resident called Hellbanianz the “stabbers”. Requesting anonymity, he said: “You’d be walking home and feel a little prick on your leg and later you realised you’d been stabbed by one of the Albanian kids.”

Such disregard was evident in the case of Hellbanianz member Tristen Asllani, who in 2016 lost control during a high-speed police chase in Crouch End, north London, and ploughed into a shop. In the crumpled car, officers found a suitcase full of cocaine and later, at the 29-year-old’s home, another 21kg of the drug and a Skorpion machine pistol with a silencer.

Such antics help explain why [B]Albanians are the third largest foreign nationality in UK prisons[/B]. [B]The figure is even more startling when considering the tiny number of UK organised criminals the NCA believes are Albanian – 0.8%.[/B]

Hellbanianz’s high life – the bling, the violence – has fostered tensions within the Albanian community, particularly the goading of police. The Hood Life video shows gang members surrounding a Met patrol car.

“This goes against the Albanian culture. Some of their higher end drug dealers, international traders, don’t like this behaviour. It exposes their activities. [B]They want to be low-key, making profits without being caught[/B],” said Qasim.

On Longridge Road in Barking, home to its Albanian restaurants, some scowl when the gang or names of prominent members are mentioned. [B]Others deny its existence[/B].

Another repercussion of the Albanian model has, say some, helped fuel knife crime and drug disputes by making cocaine affordable to smaller, younger street gangs. A recent report by the London borough of Waltham Forest said gangs were moving from postcode rivalries to commercial enterprises focused on dealing cocaine. Last Tuesday, 14-year-old Jayden Moodie was killed in the borough during a targeted attack, though his family say he had no gang involvement.

Meanwhile, so long as Mafia Shqiptare keeps delivering their cocaine, recruiting teenagers to the Hellbanianz gangster life has never been easier.

Carlin15 01-26-2019 01:12 PM

[B][SIZE="3"]The “Albanian mafia” are not really a mafia[/SIZE][/B]

They are every bit as violent but far less organised


Jan 3rd 2019

John Macris was leaving his house in the seaside Athenian suburb of Voula on October 31st last year when a man ran towards his car firing a handgun. Mr Macris, a Greek-Australian gangster, threw himself out of the car in a desperate attempt to flee his attacker, but the gunman pursued him and shot him dead.

Some weeks earlier in New York, Sylvester Zottola, an alleged member of the Bonanno crime family, was in his car at a McDonalds drive-through when he too was shot and killed. And when Raúl Tamudo, a retired international football player, returned to his home in Barcelona on August 12th, he found someone had broken in and stolen his watch collection, worth more than €100,000 ($115,500).

Police said they suspected the burglar was a member of “the Albanian mafia”. Greek and American counterparts also blamed Albanians for perpetrating and ordering respectively the killings of Mr Macris and Mr Zottola.

The three crimes were among many that point to [B]the growing prominence in the international underworld of ethnic Albanian gangsters[/B]. Asked to rank organised-crime groups by the danger they pose in Europe, [B]a senior official at the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, put Albanian mobsters ahead even of their Russian counterparts[/B]. British police have said their activities are primarily responsible for a recent [B]upsurge in human trafficking[/B]. [B]Groups of Albanians and Kosovars in Britain are also claimed to have murdered and tortured their way to control of much of the cocaine trade there[/B].

But, says Jana Arsovska, who teaches at the City University of New York and has followed the doings of Albanian criminals for more than 15 years, [B]the “Albanian mafia” is a myth. The showy wealth and extreme violence of criminals hailing from Albania and Kosovo does not mean they belong to a structured organisation with common rituals like Sicily’s Cosa Nostra or the yakuza syndicates in Japan. “We see many organisations that work independently of each other,” says Ms Arsovska.[/B] “They speak Albanian, but that does not mean they are connected to organisations back in Albania, and they are never exclusively ethnically Albanian.”

Several reasons help to explain why organised crime was able to put down strong roots in Albania after the fall of communism: the disbanding in 1991 of the country’s security service, the Sigurimi, which left around 10,000 agents with skills well-suited to organised crime jobless; the collapse six years after that of various Albanian pyramid schemes that robbed many people of their savings and prompted the looting of more than 550,000 small arms from military armouries, and the emergence in Albania and Kosovo during the Balkan wars of strong links between criminals, politicians and guerrilla fighters (with some players filling all three roles). By the late 1990s northern Albania especially, where clan loyalties had always been important, had become a violent, lawless place, riven by murderous feuds.

Yet, while individual mobsters have emigrated, there is little evidence that gangs formed in the Balkans have expanded internationally like Cosa Nostra or another Italian mafia, the ’Ndrangheta. [B]Many ethnic Albanian offenders in Europe turned to crime after emigrating. Brutal, ruthless and showy, they are nonetheless much less sophisticated than true mafiosi.[/B] There are few signs of their forming alliances with local politicians to safeguard their activities or laundering their profits other than into Balkan real estate. And the very recklessness that makes them so frightening also makes them vulnerable to straightforward policing.

Ms Arsovska cites the example from New York of the Rudaj organisation. By the 1990s it was so powerful that some called it the city’s “sixth crime family”. The others, of Italian origin, remain in business. The Rudaj crew are all in jail.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline "Piranhas from Tirana"

Carlin15 01-28-2019 11:29 PM


[SIZE="4"][COLOR="Red"][B]‘Colombia of Europe’: How tiny Albania became the continent’s drug trafficking headquarters[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE]

[B][COLOR="blue"]'Albania is no longer a hub of cultivation. It’s become a centre of investment, distribution, and recruitment'[/COLOR][/B]

Borzou Daragahi Off the coast of Durres, Albania - 19 hours ago

The white fishing boat with the green stripe bobs up in down in rough Adriatic waters. Sirens on, the joint Italian-Albanian coast guard zodiacs precariously sidle up alongside, demanding to be let aboard to search the boat’s interior for contraband. The boat operator, dressed in orange jumpsuit, shrugs and complies. Two more guys emerge from the hold.

Once, finding drugs bound for the rest of the Europe inside the boats trawling the sea was simple – just look for the huge bales of cannabis stashed in the cargo hold. But several years ago, the Albanian authorities launched an aggressive eradication effort in the countryside of the small, poor Balkan state, hoping that destroying the cannabis fields and arresting some of the growers would decrease the power of the traffickers, rid the country of its pariah status, and help ease its entry into the European Union.

Instead, it only convinced the traffickers to graduate into a more lucrative and deadly game. Now a million dollars’ worth of cocaine could be hidden in a small crevice or hidden compartment of a fishing boat. And traffickers now use the same networks they established to move vast amounts of bulky cannabis to distribute cocaine from Latin America and heroin from Central Asia via Italy to the rest of Europe.

[B]Albanian gangs are considered among the world’s top heroin, cocaine and cannabis traffickers. Both US and European law enforcement officials have described Albania as the largest provider of cannabis to the EU, as well as an important transit point for heroin and cocaine. Based on the value of drug seizures, some estimate that the marijuana alone generates up to $4bn (£3bn) a year, [U]half of Albania’s GDP[/U].[/B]

“[B]The Adriatic Sea is now a highway for drug trafficking[/B],” says Xhemal Gjunkshi, an opposition member of the Albanian parliament and a former army officer.

The coast guard officials, who asked that their names not be published during a rare foray out to sea with journalists, say they must be careful. The traffickers are often armed with assault rifles, though they have yet to use them against the coast guard.

“The years 2015 to 2016 were terrible,” says a ranking coast guard official. “[B]It was Colombia[/B].”

The white fishing boat with the green stripe is searched, and allowed to go on its way.

Occasionally, the coast guard – often collaborating with the EU’s Frontex border patrol forces – gets lucky. Last January, it found 1.5 tonnes of cannabis beneath a tarp on a boat. In recent months, hundreds of kilogrammes of cocaine were discovered hidden in bananas imported from Colombia.

More often the drugs slip by. [B]Albanian officials concede that they only intercept 10 per cent of drug shipments in and out of the country. One Western diplomat said the number was more like 5 per cent[/B], leaving traffickers with enough wealth to buy up port authorities from Rotterdam to Izmir.

“The sophisticated trafficking groups have gotten so powerful that they have networks all over the world,” says Alfonc Rakaj, a Tirana-based researcher and consultant focused on Albania and the western Balkans.

[SIZE="3"][I][B][COLOR="Blue"]"It’s the drug producer and distributor of Europe. It is a narco-state, and they’d lose too much money getting out of trafficking to get into the EU"[/COLOR][/B][/I] - Western diplomat[/SIZE]

“They are very good at managing networks throughout the world – from Latin America to Western Europe. And it’s quite clear that all these gangs operate with a certain level of political and police protection and support.”

[B]In just a few years, say diplomats and officials, Albania has become the narcotics trafficking headquarters of the continent, and [U]many fear the money has thoroughly infected the political elite[/U], making it harder to shake off even with the lure of EU membership.[/B]

[B]“It’s the Colombia of Europe,” said one Western diplomat.[/B] “It’s the drug producer and distributor of Europe. It is a narco-state, and they’d lose too much money getting out of trafficking to get into the EU.”

The drug trade is etched into the very skylines of the country’s main cities, including the capital, Tirana, and the port cities of Durres and Vlora. On paper Albania has one of the poorest economies in Europe, with a miserly banking sector tight with credit.

On the ground, Albanian cities are undergoing a massive construction boom with gleaming office and residential towers and shopping centres rising, with fancy new retail outlets.

Young beefy guys driving around town in late-model Humvees playing Albanian and American gangster rap. One of the biggest hits in Albania in recent years became a song called “Cocaina”, which likens a beautiful woman to quality blow.

“Albania is no longer a hub of cultivation,” said one EU official. “It’s become a centre of investment, distribution, and recruitment.

They called him “il Padrino” or “burned face,” for the distinctive scars he had on his left cheek. For years, Edison Harizaj was the leader of the Vlora cannabis trafficking network, a man who got to the top by driving out rivals using violence and intimidation, but also by bribing local police and officials to hit his enemies’ safe houses and storage facilities while leaving his gang’s alone.

When officials refused to comply, he allegedly had little compunction about retaliating. He was under investigation for the murder of a judge in 2011 over a property dispute.

But Mr Harizaj’s s rivals didn’t fare so poorly either. Driven out of Vlora, a city beloved by traffickers for its proximity to Italy’s coastline, they wound up moving their operations to Belgium, Netherlands, and the UK, and shifted earlier into the more lucrative business of cocaine and heroin. They amassed vast fortunes, built up ties with Italian and Latin American counterparts, and then, beginning about a year ago, moved in on Mr Haziraj.

Over the course of a year, some 23 people connected to the drug trade disappeared, part of what Artan Hoxha, an Albanian investigative journalist, calls increasing competition between rival Albanian drug gangs and networks.

Albania’s traffickers have so far kept a low profile, preferring to keep out of the limelight. Thus far few if any civilians have been caught up in their drug wars. But they are not above menacing those who shine attention on their trade.

In December, Mr Hoxha was on a television show displaying images of a suspect meant to be under house arrest on drug charges, but actually going about his business. While discussing the story on air, he received a phone call from an anonymous man. It was a death threat.

“I receive them daily,” Mr Hoxha says.

The increasing violence has also scared some traffickers away from the business. Last summer, one trafficker, Gazmend Merkaj, discovered a remotely detonated bomb attached to his car. Realising he was being targeted for assassination, he turned himself over to the police rather than risk the wrath of his rivals.

In jail, he was nearly killed by another prisoner allegedly hired to murder him in a knife attack. He’s now being held in a prison hospital in Tirana, away from other inmates, and according to Mr Hoxha, singing like a bird to prosecutors.

Mr Harizaj, the drug kingpin nicknamed “Il Padrino”, was not so lucky. On 7 November last year, he was killed in a hail of gunfire on the road between Tirana and Durres. He was 39, and most likely the victim of the same traffickers he and his comrades pushed out of Albania some years ago.

“They came back to kill the king.” says Mr Hoxha. “It’s not like Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana. But the battle that has begun is over control of the Vlora area, and it has gotten more violent.”

[B]Albania has been a centre of the drug trade since the late 1990s when the war in the former Yugoslavia moved the trafficking of drugs, stolen cars and even people further south[/B]. “Albanians became the specialists of moving drugs and people to the rest of Europe,” says Mr Hoxha.

The 1990s also coincided with rise of organised crime. Gangs looted weapons from armouries in the chaos of a 1997 uprising over a failed financial institution. That civil conflict that left 2,000 people dead and was quelled only with the aid of 7,000 UN peacekeepers. Amid the chaos, so-called “no-go” areas began to gel, taken over by armed drug traffickers bound together by clan ties.

“We have to fight very bad images from the past,” says Romina Kuko, deputy minister of the interior.

Over the past few years, Albania has embarked on a massive effort to eradicate cannabis growth, raiding several towns. Lazarat was one such no-go area. Aerial surveillance estimates suggested the region was producing $4.5bn worth of cannabis a year.

In 2015, police moved in and dismantled the drug operations, pushing burning crops and arresting 15 alleged traffickers in three days of gun battles that left at least one person killed.

“There was actual war,” says Ms Kuko.

Between 2011 and 2016, Albania destroyed 2.5m marijuana plants and 5,200 fields, according to government figures.

But just as burning the cannabis fields of Mexico pushed the cartels toward the more profitable and high-stakes cocaine and heroin trades, [B]Albania’s traffickers also evolved[/B].

Instead of taking chances by cultivating cannabis out in the open, traffickers turned Albania into a narcotics transit hub. [B]Heroin is smuggled into Albania via clothing and shoe imports brought in from Turkey, one of the world’s largest textile exporters. Cocaine comes in shipments of bananas and palm oil from Colombia. On 28 February 2018, authorities intercepted 613kg of cocaine disguised as a banana shipment. [U]Mr Hoxha describes a “spike” in the number of Albanians killed in Latin American countries, especially Ecuador, when deals go sour[/U].[/B]

The drugs are loaded on high-speed zodiac inflatable boats bound for the Italian coast from Vlora, Durres or even the neighbouring nation of Montenegro. In early December, Italy captured a 15m 300 horsepower boat carrying 1.5 tonnes of cannabis, a street value of more than £10m.

Traffickers have also taken to the air, with what some officials estimate as between five and 10 small plane loads of drugs heading across the Adriatic to Italy per day, using secret runways scratched out of mountain valleys, according to Mr Gjunkshi.

In recent years, much of the cannabis that continues to grow is bundled up and shipped back to Turkey, along the same networks used to bring heroin into the country.

Police launched an anti-narcotics task force in 2017, bringing in officials from the various ministries and the intelligence service. Ms Kuko says authorities have identified 41 Albanian-rooted drug networks. One, nicknamed the Bajri gang, had tentacles spreading to the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and was involved in blackmailing and money-laundering as well as trafficking.

Ms Kuko says authorities seized £34m from traffickers in 2018. But even she complains that their work in hunting down the traffickers often comes to naught, with criminals able to buy their way out of jail.

“Impunity is a plague in this country,” she says. “We’ve seen the results of active and non-active judges and prosecutors. I can find out anything, but I can’t do anything if a judge doesn’t give me a warrant.”

[B][COLOR="Red"][U]The leaked phone call transcripts were damning[/U]. Saimir Tarhi, Albania’s former interior minister, was mentioned by Italy-based traffickers of Albanian descent. Prosecutors wanted his head. But to the shock of many, [U]the country’s Prime Minister Edi Rama stood by him[/U], refusing to strip him of his immunity last year. He remains under house arrest pending trial.[/COLOR][/B]

[B]While the government denies it, experts say the traffickers have thoroughly infected politics and commerce, at the deepest levels. Scores of high-level Albanian officials -- from mayors to ministers -- have been implicated in the drug trade, and perhaps enable it. Among those identified by local media is Kelmend Baili, a ranking transport official dubbed the “Escobar of the Balkans”, after allegations that he was a drug kingpin surfaced in Greece.[/B]

To give one example of possible collusion between traffickers and officials, a network of Lockheed-Martin radar has sensors been installed all along the coast. In theory it should help officials detect any seacraft longer than 3.5m. But in practice, 15m boats loaded with narcotics keep showing up in Italy.

[B][COLOR="Red"]Mr Gjunkshi says that in his constituency of Dibra, in Albania’s north, [U]police are directly involved in the growing, cultivating, packaging, transport and selling of drugs[/U].[/COLOR][/B]

“In terms of the influence the money has, it’s a very complex network of drug money just getting into everything, and influencing everything – all strata of society,” says researcher Mr Rakaj. “That includes money laundering, and party financing.”

After studying in the UK and US for some years, Mr Rakaj returned to Tirana 10 months ago and settled in the capital’s Blloku district. Once a barren security zone around the palace of former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, it has over the past few years sprouted into a trendy, upmarket warren of pricey condos, retail outlets and eateries.

“You have people showing off with luxury cars and they are in their early 20s,” he says. “You can very easily discern that these people don’t have the background, education, or training to be able to have that sort of wealth in their hands. It comes with power. They’re really into that bling culture that’s in your face.”

Once impoverished fishing and port towns along the coast are teeming with hotels, restaurants and new apartment towers, with traffickers sometimes strong-arming local officials to win control of cherished plots of lands. The lure of the drug business appears to be irresistible to young people with few opportunities in a country with a GDP per capita that’s about the same as Cuba. Starting salaries for civil servants are around £300 per month.

“I think Albanians getting into drugs is very purely about getting money and getting rich quick,” says Mr Rakaj. “The country offers very little in terms of living a dignified life even if you’re hardworking. This is a sort of a shortcut to really break out of a poverty.”

[I]Vincent Triest contributed to this report.[/I]

Risto the Great 01-29-2019 12:11 AM

Albania, the land of milk, honey and a shit tonne of COCAAAAIIINNNEEE

Carlin15 04-06-2019 11:42 AM



До денешен ден во оваа истрага биле отстранети 15 затворени плантажи со канабис и запленети 8.255 билки канабис, околу 100.000 евра во кеш и злато, 4 луксузни возила и 63 електронски уреди.

Со поддршка на Европол, 64 припадници на албанските организирани криминални групи биле уапсени на 3-ти и 5-ти април. Тие се уапсени во текот на истовремената полициска операција која била спроведена во Белгија, Франција, Холандија и Италија, и во која учествувале 600 полицајци.

Се верува дека осомничените илегално произведувале и тргувале со дрога и дека се поврзани со трговија на луѓе, проституција и перење на пари, се наведува во соопштението на Европол.

Наведената полициска акција ја следи и сложена истрага која се занимава со активностите на оваа организирана криминална група која делува во Белгија, Франција, Холандија, Италија и Велика Британија, а се верува дека осомничените управувале со голем број на плантажи канабис распоредени ширум Белгија и на северот на Франција, а некои од нив исто така биле вклучени во случаи со трговија на луѓе во Франција.

Во оваа полициска операција биле уапсени 55 лица во Белгија, вклучувајќи го и лидерот на оваа криминална група, 7 лица во Холандија и уште 2 лица во Франција, а во акцијата покрај белгиската, учествувале француската, италијанската, холандската и британската полиција, додека Европол ја поддржал истрагата овозможувајќи размена на информации, проверка на податоци во реално време и друга потребна техничка поддршка.

До денешен ден во оваа истрага биле отстранети 15 затворени плантажи со канабис и запленети 8.255 билки канабис, околу 100.000 евра во кеш и злато, 4 луксузни возила и 63 електронски уреди.

Албанскиот организиран криминал и натаму останува голем проблем за сите европски земји, а тоа е закана која Европол ја сфаќа многу сериозно. Се очекуваат уште операции од овој тип во блиска иднина, како одговор на полицијата на овој вид криминални активности, се наведува на крајот од соопштението на Европол.

kompir 04-08-2019 06:18 PM

Who supplies the Albanians, I'll give you a clue, their names are acronyms...

Carlin15 04-16-2019 09:22 PM

[B]Dutch Parliament Approves Motion Calling for Schengen “Emergency Break”[/B]


Today, Dutch Parliament has approved a motion to ask the Dutch government to request the European Commission to apply the “emergency break” procedure to suspend the visa exemption of Albania for the Schengen zone. [COLOR="Blue"][B]The vote gives off a strong signal that the Dutch Parliament is not impressed with the progress of the Albanian government on dealing with organized crime.[/B][/COLOR]

The motion was proposed by MPs Madeleine van Toorenburg (Christian Democrats), Jeroen van Wijngaarden (Liberal Conservatives), Jasper van Dijk (Socialist Party), and Nico Drost (Christian Union). The Christian Democrats, Liberal Conservatives, and Christian Union take part in the coalition government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It is therefore unlikely that the Dutch government will choose to ignore it.

The chance of the Dutch government’s request finding a majority of EU members to support it are judged to be low, so the approval of the motion is unlikely to have a practical impact on the visa liberalization. However, it gives off a very strong signal that Dutch Parliament will most likely vote against opening EU accession negotiations with Albania in June, no matter how eloquent the upcoming Progress Report of the European Commission will be.

Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok confirmed in the parliamentary debate regarding the motion last week that the government is against opening of the negotiations:

[COLOR="blue"][B]“Parliament knows that the Netherlands, as regards that ambition [to enter the EU], considers Albania not ready to start accession negotiations, because a big number of steps need to be made to get there. That is the current position of the Netherlands together with a small number of other European countries.”[/B][/COLOR]

Within the Dutch media landscape, few have spoken out against the parliamentary motion. Among them former OSCE Ambassador to Albania Robert Bosch, who was hired last year by the Albanian government and the firms behind EURALIUS to moderate a “debate” on Albania’s progress, which rapidly devolved into a paean on the Rama government. Bosch stated back then the need “to convert people” to message of Albania’s progress under Rama.

In an opinion piece published by The Post Online, which otherwise is an outlet for populist right-wing authors, [COLOR="Blue"][B]Bosch called the parliamentary debate last a “bad evening for democracy” and claimed that “the government of Albania is doing everything to push back against crime and corruption.” Unsurprisingly, he presented little evidence for his claims.[/B][/COLOR]

Carlin15 05-31-2019 05:34 PM

[B]The Netherlands asks the EU to reintroduce visas for Albanian citizens[/B]



[COLOR="blue"][B]The Netherlands officially asked the European Commission to reintroduce visas for Albanian citizens visiting the Schengen zone.[/B][/COLOR] The move was prompted by the high levels of crime among Albanian immigrants in the Netherlands, an issue which prompted a vote in the Dutch Parliament to end the visa free regime.

It comes at a time when Albania is hoping to make a step forward, not back, in its EU integrations and demands the opening of accession talks.

[B][COLOR="Blue"]According to the Dutch request, the level of crime perpetrated by Albanian gangs in this country, including drug dealing, prostitution and racketeering, is unacceptable.[/COLOR][/B] The Netherlands can’t reintroduces visas on their own and have to go through the EU.

Risto the Great 05-31-2019 06:06 PM

The Albanians will have North Macedonian passports faster than you can snort a line ... or steal a kid .... or harvest an organ ....

Gocka 05-31-2019 06:23 PM

[QUOTE=Risto the Great;180918]The Albanians will have North Macedonian passports faster than you can snort a line ... or steal a kid .... or harvest an organ ....[/QUOTE]

I read Carlin's post first and my very first reaction was the same as your's.

It would be hilarious if they reintroduced visa's for North Fyrom as well.

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