While the Albanian government speaks proudly of reduced drug cultivation in Albania, what they aren’t telling you is that the organized crime groups have just exported their expertise to other countries like The Netherlands.
As per the Transnational Tentacles: Global Hotspots of Western Balkans Organised Crime report by Global Initiative, as well as shifting drug cultivation enterprises from Albania to The Netherlands, they are also operating in the UK, Belgium and Turkey. The report noted that “the Albanian groups seem to arrive with or have access to significant funds.”
But this isn’t the first time this phenomenon has been reported. While ex- Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj was reporting that cannabis trafficking from Albania had decreased, the Civil Society Observatory reported that Albanians are shifting from growing locally and are opting to create indoor cannabis farms in Europe instead.
The report states that while Albania has favourable growing conditions, complemented by weak governance and corruption, robust police crackdowns since 2017 have just displaced it elsewhere. This includes countries like Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Global Initiative reported that officially, there are only around 1200 Albanians in The Netherlands, but it’s assumed there are “many more who are there unofficially, some using forged passports from other EU countries.”
One Dutch prosecutor said there could be as many as 40,000 Albanians in the country. The report also estimated there were around 15 active Albanian criminal groups in the Benelux area, with ties to 3-4 others in Latin America.
Many of the Albanian organized crime networks operating out of The Netherlands use their position as a platform for trafficking cannabis and cocaine to the UK.
The report found that there is “a clear trend in Albanians moving up the crime ladder over time. Indeed, while they seemed to have entered the Dutch market on the coattails of Italian groups, by 2020 they appear to be formidable players in their own right. Indeed, some information points to the fact that Albanians are now running transatlantic operations of their own.”
The region remains the centre of the trade, the region of transit, a recruitment ground for foot soldiers, and a place to launder illicit funds but the market for illicit goods and services are exported elsewhere.