According to numerous international reports, Albanian criminal organizations are very active in drug trafficking. In addition to local production, there are now important routes from South America
Albanian criminal organisations “control territories, produce substantial investments and actively influence Albanian politics,” says the latest Open Society report on the evolution of organized crime in Albania (2017).
“Albania produces and exports a significant amount of marijuana, especially to Europe, and is a transit country for Afghan heroin and cocaine, serving as the main entry for the distribution of heroin in Europe,” The US Department of State writes in its report on the strategy for international control of narcotics, published in March 2018, noting that even if “the number of drug seizures and arrests has increased in the country in recent years, doubts remain about the government’s lasting commitment to a determined application (of the law).”
Albania is registered in the global drug map both as a producer country and as a distribution node. An assessment confirmed also in the World Drug Report 2017 by the United Nations, which highlights the existence of “concrete evidence” of the involvement of Albanian criminal groups in all major drug trafficking to Europe (heroin, cocaine, cannabis).
In February 2018, for example, a record load of 613 kg of pure cocaine was seized in the port of Durres, after arriving – hidden in a container of bananas – directly from Colombia. Its remarkable value, estimated by the Albanian police at 180 million euros , shows that a new route has been established between South America and the Albanian coasts. A fact also confirmed by the British National Agency for Crime (NCA), which notes that “the criminals in the Balkans are increasing more and more their network of influences, forming direct relationships with suppliers of cocaine in Latin America”.
For the NCA, “the threat of Albanian criminal groups is significant. London is their main hub, but they have settled all over the United Kingdom.”
This international expansion inevitably produces consequences within Albanias borders. “Albania serves as a basis for the operations of regional criminal organisations. Illicit collections are easily recycled,” notes the US State Department. But how is the drug money recycled in Albania? The Open Society report cites above all the real estate sector, casinos and betting centers, as does the State Department’s report, which stats that “law enforcement agencies recognise the need to fight money laundering, but remain in much of it incapable of doing so.”
But the activities of the Albanian criminal world do not only concern the international police forces and internal observers in the country. The European Council, which met in early summer to decide whether or not to open accession negotiations with Albania, decided to postpone the start of the talks by one year. The Council, while welcoming the Albanian “efforts”, notes that “dismantling criminal groups remains an important challenge.”
“The Council underlines the importance for Albania of pursuing tangible and sustainable results, even in specific areas such as the repression of cultivation and drug trafficking”, said the final statement of the meeting of 27-28 June. The twenty-eight European leaders invite Tirana to “continue and deepen their efforts to reduce the cultivation of cannabis” and “ensure the achievement of concrete results in the fight against corruption and the dismantling of organised crime networks.”
On these and other points, the Albanian government will have to work between now and 2019 to convince the European Union to open accession negotiations. By that date, the “fight without mercy against drugs” promised in 2013 by Prime Minister Edi Rama will have to produce concrete results.