Albania: hub for international drug traffic

THE poorest country in Europe, Albania, has grown into a major transit point for the drug traffic between Asia and the west.

Albanian and foreign criminal groups fixed on Albania for its geographical position and turned it into a transit country for drugs being shipped to western Europe, said former Interior Minister Spartak Poci.

On Monday, the speaker of the Albanian parliament, Namik Dokle, resigned, complaining he was being harrassed from one side by “the barons of politics” and from the other by “the drug barons.”

Dokle was protesting against a Constitutional Court ruling which revoked a parliamentary vote dismissing Chief Prosecutor Arben Rakipi for allegedly “protecting organised crime.”

In 2001, two Albanian traffickers, Arben Berballa and Frederik Durda, who were said to have links with the Columbian narcotics cartels, secured the contract for computerising the Albanian prosecutor’s office.

At the time, newspapers published a photo, taken in Greece, of the two accused in the company of the prosecutor’s wife.

“Albanian dealers are linked to the international mafia, including Sara Corona Unita, Cosa Nostra, but also the Turkish, Russian and Macedonian mafia and the Columbian cartels, said Poci, who now heads a parliamentary committee supervising the secret police.

Last year, Albanian police destroyed an international cocaine-smuggling network shipping the drug to Italy and other western European countries via Albania.

Police arrested about 20 traffickers and seized eight tonnes of heroin and cocaine. That operation was carried out by the drug squads of seven south American countries and several European states, including Italy and Greece.

“But the quantities of drugs being moved through Albania are much greater than the amounts seized by the police,” Poci admitted.

According to a secret police report recently presented to parliament, the traffickers hide their activities behind legal operations, while trying to penetrate the administration and political circles.

But the report did not name any politicians who might be implicated in drug dealing.

Albanian traffickers have a reputation for violence, not hesitating to kill off the members of rival groups so as to win market hegemony, said Fatos Klosi, a senior officer in police intelligence.

In recent months, more than 20 people linked to drug trafficking have been killed in inter-gang fighting in Albania, according to the police.

The post powerful groups operate in Tirana, Fieri, south of Tirana, Durres in the northwest, in Vlora and Korca in the south and in Shkoder, in the north.

“In these cities, drug money is recycled in the building industry and in tourism. The authorities lack the means of financial control to stamp out the money-laundering”, Poci said.
? Sapa-AFP

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