According to a recent investigation by Balkan Insight, the town of Librazhd is producing millions of counterfeit cigarettes that are passing through to the North African market.
The factory that sits on the outskirts of the town employs 50 people and is producing cigarettes that are packaged bearing the name and picture of “Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt.
The brand is not only the most popular brand of cigarettes in Egypt and the surrounding area, but it is one of the top sellers in the world.
According to leaked Albanian court documents and British customer’s reports, since 2014 around 22 million packets of fake cigarettes have found their way from the Albania Tabak factory, to Elbasan, before being sent onwards to Libya. The case was investigated in 2015 before being put “on hold” whilst prosecutors “waited for information from foreign jurisdictions”. Whilst Albanian prosecutors claim that the case was reopened in 2017,
the factory still operates with impunity today and is now producing up to 175 million packets a year via a partnership with the BVI-based Eques Holding Group.
The men behind the operation include individuals from the Balkans, Middle East, and Cyprus, many who have links to other smuggling cases and others whose involvement has been hidden through offshore companies that have been investigated by journalists from the Balkan Investigative Network and BIRN.
Those named as benefiting from the lucrative counterfeit cigarette operation include the wife of a leading Socialist Party politician, despite her insistence that she “didn’t know” there were allegations against the operation.
The manager of the factory, Mr Servet Dauti said that he just makes the cigarettes and has no knowledge or responsibility for what happens to them once they leave the country despite the packets displaying a trademarked image of Cleopatra and “Made in Egypt by Eastern Company S.A.E”.
The cigarettes were exported from Durres to Libya by a company called Al Zain International Company.
To date, Albania Tabak, Eques Holding Group, the wife of a Socialist Party political figure, or any other individual have not faced any criminal action. It is also worth noting that the owner of the Albania Tabak factory is Ilir Jashari who was convicted of drug trafficking in Italy in June 2010 and was handed a sentence of 15 years. He started serving it in 2014 before being transferred to an Albanian prison where he was released in 2017.
The prosecutor dealing with the case, Armanda Xhaferri stated on December 12th that investigations had not yet been completed because they were waiting for documents from Egypt.