State of the Albanian Organized Crime
Posted on: 2007-07-28 12:04:51
Behind the Islamic hybrid of drugs and politics, sex slavery and drive for independence.
By Ioannis Michaletos
The Albanian Organized Crime groups constitute one of the most expanding and networked criminal groups in contemporary Balkans & Europe. Further, their role in the political developments in relation to the Kosovo issue, or the domestic Albanian events should be assessed as well. It is more than certain that any move towards Kosovo independence is strongly supported by them, in order to expand their bases in a newly formed state, thus legalizing to an extent the underworld realm on which they thrive nowadays.
Albanian organized crime groups are hybrid organizations, often involved both in criminal activity of an organized nature and in political activities, mainly relating to Kosovo (1). According to the UN Information Service, “It has become more and more difficult to distinguish clearly between terrorist groups and organized crime units, since their tactics increasingly overlap. The world is seeing the birth of a new hybrid of “organized crime -- terrorist organizations”, and it is imperative to sever the connection between crime, drugs, and terrorism now.” (2) The interrelation between crime and terrorism has its own international and regional ramifications as an attack against the USA Embassy in Athens-Greece revealed last January, that seems to originate from the triangle between Kosovo-Tetovo-Albania and the arms smugglers networks there (3).
In 1997, the so-called pyramid savings schemes in the Albanian republic collapsed. This caused nation-wide unrest between January and March 1997, during which incredible amounts of military equipment disappeared (and partly reappeared during the Kosovo conflict): 38,000 hand-guns, 226,000 Kalashnikovs, 25,000 machine-guns, 2,400 anti-tank rocket launchers, 3,500,000 hand grenades, 3,600 tons of explosives (4). Even though organized crime groups were probably unable to "control" the situation, it seems clear that they did profit from the chaos by acquiring a great number of weapons. Albanian organized crime also profited from the financial pyramids which they seem to have used to launder money on a large scale. Before the crash, an estimated 500 to 800 million USD seem to have been transferred to accounts of Italian criminal organizations and Albanian partners. This money was then reinvested in Western countries.
What's more is the sheer size of the economic dynamism that organized crime is able to produce in this small Balkan state. According to Albanian economic reviews since 2003, legal investments average some 200 million euros, while illegally invested funds are in excess of 1 billion, a ratio of one to five. According to Transparency International, 80 percent of the Albanian economy is a "parallel one"; for every 100 euros of documented capital, another 80 euros are never accounted for, most of it from organized crime activities (5).
The narcotics and more specifically heroin trade is a major concern for the security authorities across Europe, and the role of the Albanian OC groups is formidable over the past decade or so. Dr Mark Galeotti reports that “Two Albanian-run heroin processing facilities in FYROM. Ethnic Albanian communities in Europe provide street-level distribution networks”. He also adds that “This is especially important in Belgium (with a concentration in Brussels), Germany, Switzerland and Greece (which has absorbed an estimated 300,000 illegal Albanian immigrants since 1991). Some 70 per cent of the heroin reaching Germany and Switzerland is now reckoned to have been transported through Albania and/or by Albanian groups, and the figure for Greece may be closer to 85 per cent” (6). In general some 70-80% of heroin being distributed in modern day Europe is Albanian –managed, along with the close collaboration with Turkish groups and to a further extent with the opium producers in Central Asia and Afghanistan. A transnational set of connections par excellence that resembles a sophisticated corporation.
An example of the international cooperation that is needed in order to raid this kind of networks is a routine operation that was carried out by certain European police forces. According to Europol, "A closely co-coordinated operation between the law enforcement authorities in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands has led to the simultaneous arrest of 28 persons. The arrests were based on extensive observations against an ethnic Albanian organized crime group, exchange and subsequent analysis of investigative details and co-ordination both at police and judicial level. The arrests were carried out on 23 and 24 October in execution of arrest warrants issued by the Prosecutors Office of Brescia (Italy)" (7).
The Kosovo experience has been up to date, a great disappointment for the international community. The UN administered territory has not been able to withstand the all-pervading influence of the organized crime. Despite numerous acts of violence and a very high homicide rate; very few convictions have been handed out to culprits, none of those was a member of the organized crime either. Nowadays the existence of regular heroin supply from Afghanistan, and the control by the “Albanian Mafia” of the Balkan route (8), has enabled it to obtain a large capital base that is laundered mainly though the construction centre in Albania and the use of offshore financial centers. Actually the largest enterprise in terms of sales and profits in South Eastern Europe is the Albanian organized crime (9).
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