Gentian Malindi, the main of the three suspects in a cross-border 137 kg cocaine sting operation was able to escape the Albanian police on Friday.
The police announced they seized 137 kg of cocaine at the port of Durres on Friday, in a joint sting operation with the Greek police, supported by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Two of the suspects, Altin Myslimhaka (53) and Ardian Bega (35) were arrested but Gentian Malindi was able to escape, despite being under full police surveillance.
In a press conference announcing the “successful operation”, Police Chief Ardi Veliu failed to mention the suspect had escaped but just said he was declared wanted.
Veliu said the cocaine was found by the Greek police in shipping containers arriving from Ecuador through the port of Piraeus, Greece.
The media reported that the Greek police replaced the cocaine with rice in containers shipping bananas from Ecuador to Albania, and placed GPS devices in drug packages in order to track down the owners in Albania.
The Greek police informed the Albanian counterpart of the operation in August. Three days after the shipping containers had been waiting at the port of Durres, a port security guard (Ardian Bega) and a fishing boat worker (Altin Myslimhaka) turned up to take the packages. Due to his job, Bega had a special ID card allowing him access to the port.
Under police surveillance, they took part of the amount of what they thought was cocaine – 22kg according to local media– and drove away in a car waiting for them outside the port, allegedly driven by Gentian Malindi.
After a few kilometers drive they allegedly realized the packages were refilled with rice, threw them out of the car and tried to escape.
The main suspect of the three, Gentian Malindi, was able to escape, although this was a sting operation and the police were following them closely.
Myslimhaka, one of those arrested, is a fishing boat worker for Malindi’s business. The latter was arrested in 2013 over suspicions of being the owner of hundreds of kilograms of cannabis found in a car. He was later released for lack of evidence.
In his press conference, Police Chief Ardi Veliu failed to mention that the main suspect was able to run away despite the allegedly well-planned sting operation and full surveillance by the Albanian police. He only said that Malindi was declared wanted.
Veliu also didn’t say that one of the two arrested was a security guard at the port of Durres.
In contrast to information published by local media, Veliu also did not mention that the Greek police had replaced some part or all of the cocaine amount with rice at the port of Piraeus. Therefore, it remains unclear whether the 137 kilograms seized by the Albanian police were all cocaine, a mix of cocaine and rice, or just rice.
Last year, Albanian police seized 613 kg of cocaine in the same port in a similar operation with foreign law enforcement agencies. The owner of the Albanian company ordering the banana shipment from Columbia, Arber Çekaj was arrested by the German police, where he sought political asylum, and extradited to Albania in August.
The Albanian Serious Crimes Prosecutors’ investigation concluded the case did not involve a “structured criminal group” but Çekaj had organized the trafficking of the record amount of cocaine on his own.