From: Alice Taylor
UNODC: “Corruption is a Serious Problem in Albania”, Particularly in Police and Law Enforcement

Despite high levels of organised crime in Albania, there is a “very low level of conviction”, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Report on Organized Crime in the Western Balkans.

The report noted that there were only around 44 convictions for organised crime between 2016 and 2018. It was also found that only 20% of those arrested ever faced court and it requires further investigation to understand at which stage organized crime cases are failing to proceed, and why.

Out of the convictions for organized crime between 2013 and 2018, the majority were for drug production, followed by drug trafficking, and money laundering. Again, there were few convictions overall.

Albania’s biggest concern when it comes to organized crime is the domestic production of cannabis as well as drug trafficking. The report found that Albania is also a transit country, notably for trafficking heroin along the Balkan route via Turkey, Bulgaria, Northern Macedonia, to Italy and other EU countries. 

It was also a transit country for the trafficking of cocaine from South America, notably Columbia, to West and Central Europe. Seizures of cocaine made by the Albanian authorities rose from 4 kg in 2012 to a peak of 631 kg in 2018, the 10th largest seizures reported by any European country in that year, and the second-largest in South-Eastern Europe (after Turkey)

While it was noted that the involvement of Albanian groups in these crimes appears to have declined recently, the production of cannabis and the trafficking of cannabis to other countries has increased.

UNODC wrote that between 2014 and 2018, Albania was mentioned as the “main country of origin” of cannabis found of European markets. In Central Europe it accounted for 24% of the market, rising to 61% in South-Eastern Europe.

As mentioned in other recent reports, the UNODC found that Albanian criminal gangs were gaining importance in drug trafficking in other European countries such as Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria. It notes that while there may be declines in trafficking to and from Albania, this is likely due to organized crime groups being more involved in drug activities in other countries therefore out of the reach of Albanian authorities. 

The total number of persons holding Albanian citizenship arrested for cocaine trafficking in continental Europe outside of Albania rose – as reported by member states to UNODC in the annual report questionnaire – from 115 in 1998 to 1,935 in 2018. In many cases, cocaine shipments organized by Albanian organized crime groups now completely circumvent the territory of Albania.

Activities of Albanian organized crime groups in overall drug trafficking outside of Albania significantly increased as well, with arrests of persons holding Albanian citizenship in Europe outside of Albania rising from 992 in 1998 to 9,357 in 2018.30.

 But the activities of Albanian organized crime groups are not limited to continental Europe. Albanian crime groups located in the United Kingdom have established control and influence across the drug trafficking market there, particularly the cocaine market. These organized criminals are increasingly forming relationships with cocaine suppliers in Latin America to exert more control over the markets. 

In terms of money laundering, the UNODC noted a “high-level political commitment to working with FATF and MoneyVal” since Albania was included on the FATF grey list. According to MoneyVal evaluations, Albania has done well at implementing its recommendations but time will tell if these are continued long-term.

However, prosecutions for money laundering fluctuate and convictions remain at very low levels. There were just 14 convictions in 2018, a decrease from 27 in 2017. UNODC said this could be due to inefficient anti-money laundering efforts and a lack of understanding of how to prosecute such cases. It noted that many money laundering proceedings were suspended or dismissed by the prosecution.

In terms of the circulation of illegal weapons, the UNODC noted an “enabling environment for organized criminals” due to the lack of rigid regulations. Several initiatives by the government to deplete public stockpiles did not stop many weapons from still being in circulation.

Albania also got a mention for the prevalence of hackers that work with international criminal groups and are subcontracted to carry out attacks on banks, public institutions or similar. In terms of other forms of cybercrime, credit card fraud, dissemination of child sexual abuse material or audiovisual pirating, the internet also facilitates trafficking and distribution of drugs, recruitment of victims of trafficking, the distribution of counterfeit goods and many other criminal activities, such as trafficking of drugs and human beings, were noted.

In the recent GRETA report, it was noted that the internet and social media are popular ways to recruit women and children for sexual exploitation. GRETA’s Executive Secretary told Exit that the government needs to do more to actively search for these individuals and to prevent further crimes from happening.

The Western Balkans is both an origin and destination for trafficking in persons and involves almost entirely women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. Most detected victims of trafficking in persons in the region (96 per cent) come from three countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia.

UNODC reported that in Western Europe, Albanian victims were more often detected than other victims of human trafficking from the Balkan countries. Between 2013 and 2018, some 533 total victims were reported, 304 in the UK alone. There was a big spike in the number of women and girls being trafficked in 2018, although the report reminds that most of the victims remain undiscovered

One woman who spoke to the report authors said that women are desperate to work abroad because “there is no future here [Albania]” she added that “Austria is full of our [Albanian] women”.

The topic of migrant smuggling was also detained in the report. These networks composed of groups of Albanians and also Iraqis and Kurds controlling large parts of the smuggling network in the region.

Albanian human smuggling groups were also organized differently. They were more tightly structured, with smoother operations and better integration among group members. Albanian smuggled migrants almost exclusively aimed to get to the United Kingdom or the United States. Their smugglers were also Albanians and the groups had three main hierarchical levels. 

It was noted that some groups had collaborated with border police as there was evidence migrants were turned away from the border and told to try another time. This was corroborated by in an interview with a trafficker earlier this year.

UNODC noted that at the time of writing, there was no national “serious and/or organized crime threat assessments” conducted n the country by the government and no action plans or strategies to fight against organized crime. 

Furthermore, the role of enablers defined as “individuals, mechanisms and situations that play an important role in facilitating organized crime activities – whether intentionally or inadvertently – increasing its benefits and scale while reducing its risks” and bribery, corruption, and obstruction of justice were detailed as some of the means facilitating organized crime.

Corruption is a “serious problem in Albania” it noted, particularly within the police and law enforcement agencies and despite judicial reform and police vetting.