A court in Albania sentenced a gangland leader known as “the Escobar of the Balkans” to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking, membership of a criminal group, concealment of wealth and money laundering on Tuesday.
Klement Balili surrendered to the police last January after spending almost two years as a fugitive from justice.
The drug trafficker had been included in the list of the most wanted criminals in the Balkans for leading an illegal international drug network that also operated outside Albania, mainly in Greece and Italy.
Initially handed an 18 year sentence this was ultimately reduced to 10 years following an earlier decision to accept Balili’s request for an abbreviated trial.
The Prosecutor’s Office also requested the confiscation of his assets including some twenty apartments, luxury hotels and several plots of land.
Despite being a suspected criminal Balili served in high political offices in Albania and enjoyed close connections with the country’s leadership.
From 2014 to 2016, Balili was director of transport in the city of Saranda, appointed by the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), which at the time was in coalition government with the Democratic Party (PD).
Greek authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in May 2016 for drug trafficking after which he was dismissed from his post and went into hiding.
During this time, however, Greek and Albanian media published photos and videos of Balili holidaying off the coast of Albania and attending a wedding in the company of the head of the Socialist Party in Tepelena, a town in the south of Albania.
The former US Ambassador to Albania Donald Lu had denounced Baili’s strong links with politics” and the Albanian authority’s failure to arrest him.
Speaking after Baili’s sentencing on Tuesday, his lawyer proclaimed his clients innocence and announced that he will appeal the judgment before the Court of Appeals.