Albania’s transformation into the primary marijuana producer and trafficker and the presence of well-structured criminal groups who hold strong ties to the Italian mafia has helped make the country a favorable holding point for Latin American cocaine headed towards Western markets.
The interception of the drug shipment in the port of Durrës and the discovery of the cocaine processing warehouse in Xibraka, Elbasan serve as two concrete examples that show how Albanian gangs are progressively turning their attention toward cocaine trafficking.
These suspicions are further reinforced by reports and statements from partner countries. A week ago, Italian Antimafia Prosecutor De Raho, during his visit in Tirana stated that the Albania mafia, besides marijuana production and trafficking, has lately expanded its operations into the cocaine trade as a result of its strong ties to the Italian mafia.
The CIA describes Albania in its official website as an “active transshipment point for Southwest Asian opiates, hashish, and cannabis transiting the Balkan route and – to a lesser extent – cocaine from South America destined for Western Europe.”
The “National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime” issued by the UK’s National Crime Agency in 2017 states that “criminals from the Balkans are increasingly expanding their network of influence, forming direct relationships with cocaine suppliers in Latin America.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime wrote in its 2017 report that “cocaine trafficking through Albania towards Western and Central European markets is visibly increasing in comparison to cocaine trafficking that transports the product directly to Western and Central European ports.“
In October 2017, the head of the Attica Security Police Drugs Prosecution Department, Kostas Panagiotopoulos, spoke to Greek media on his report on drug trafficking in Greece, stating that “Greeks have a limited role in the cocaine trade, though Albanian involvement is constantly increasing in this area as well. Albania has become a key distribution point for cocaine destined for European markets and is used as a storage country, alongside its role in the heroin trafficking trade, though Greeks still dominate the Greek cocaine dealing market.”
Angelika Albaladejo, an American journalist specializing in security matters in Latin America, wrote an analysis published on Insight Crime a few days ago, referring to the 613 kg cocaine bust in Albania. In it she states that:
Albania already has a long history of marijuana production and trafficking and now its status as a transit route for Colombian cocaine destined for European markets appears to be growing. Colombian crime groups are likely being drawn by Albania’s strategic location between lucrative markets in both Eastern and Western Europe, as well as existing ties between the Albanian mafia and the Italian ‘Ndrangheta.
In 2016, Albanian authorities uncovered a cocaine trafficking ring involving Colombian chemists, members of the ‘Ndrangheta Italian mafia and contacts in Holland, Greece and Belgium. The now dismantled network would dissolve Colombian cocaine into shipments of construction supplies like cement, then Colombian chemists in Albania would extract the cocaine for distribution across the European continent.
Colombian crime groups trafficking directly to Albania likely expected to avoid interception by avoiding the usual European routes through countries like Spain, where authorities are cracking down on drug rings. But with Albania under pressure to intensify its fight against organized crime as part of its bid to join the European Union, the recent massive cocaine seizure indicates this alternative route into the region will not go unwatched.