European police smashed an international heroin trafficking ring operating in Italy last week, arresting 71 individuals in Italy, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Italian Carabinieri ROS began Operation Ellenika in March 2009, focusing on a Kosovo/Albanian organized crime group involved in trafficking large quantities of heroin from Albania to Italy, via Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The investigation resulted in evidence of the group trafficking a total of over 600 kilos of heroin and 500 kilos of marijuana.
The so-called Balkan route is the infamous way of travel for heroin from Afghanistan to Europe. A statement from Europol reads: “The European Union is a significant market for opiates including heroin and, in recent years, organized crime engaged in the trade has seen increasing collaboration across national, ethnic and business boundaries. Heroin consignments destined for the EU are often not controlled by a single criminal organization, but rather facilitated by several, increasingly cooperative organized crime groups. Virtually all heroin encountered in the EU originates in Afghanistan.”
The recent bust in Italy is interesting in that it offers another perspective on Italy’s underworld which is dominated by Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Camorra from Campania, and the ‘Ndrangheta from Calabria. New studies show that an increasing number of Albanians are involved in drug operations in Italy and that, according to a new report by the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, the Albanian mafia has gained a leading role in the country's drug market.
In an insightful article, Matteo Tacconi quotes the report, writing: “Albanian criminals no longer trade on the streets, but now operate primarily as suppliers, exhibiting ‘the awareness of being a growing criminal force’, reads the report, which points out how Albanian groups have ‘overcome isolated initiatives in drug trafficking’ and now engage in ‘more stable criminal strategies, aimed at strengthening ties in the area and evolving towards more qualified criminal activities’.”
The Albanians are a difficult target for investigators. They are a secretive bunch working in clans based on family ties, not so different from how many Italian organized crime groups operate. Another problem authorities face is that many of the clan bosses remain in Albania, controlling their criminal business from an area where they are safe from prosecution.
Albania was ranked as the most corrupt country in Europe by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2012. It ranked 113 out of a total of 176 countries worldwide. The country’s political leaders are often linked to organized crime. In 2010, one of thirteen arrested members of a violent Albanian drug gang operating in New York was employed as the Senior Administrative Assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister of Albania at the time of his arrest.
With friends in such high places the Albanian Mafia is almost invulnerable for prosecution in its own country. And it’s almost impossible for law enforcement agencies from other nations to gather information or be granted honest cooperation from their Albanian colleagues.
Of course, law enforcement groups have no problem busting bad guys without any help from third parties. As evidenced by this recent bust, they continue to keep their eyes on the prize and stop the flow of narcotics into their jurisdiction.
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