From: Alice Taylor
Democratic Values Compromised in Albania Leading to Increase in Crime

Albania has been ranked as the 61st most criminal country in the world, ranking alongside Zimbabwe and Tajikistan, according to data published at the start of October.

The Global Organized Crime Index 2021, published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, examines 193 countries, the state of organized crime, and the national response.

Albania scored 5.63 points out of a possible 10, with zero being optimum. The worst country in terms of criminality was the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 7.75, followed by Columbia, Myanmar and Mexico. Neighbouring Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Croatia, Greece, and Romania did better, while Serbia fared much worse.

The country was also ranked on the prevalence of its criminal market, where it came in at number 65, scoring 5.25. This was due to a high level of cannabis, cocaine and even heroin trading and trafficking.

An accompanying country report said that Albania is a source and transit country for human trafficking and irregular migrants, and Albanian criminals are responsible for a large number of trafficking victims in Western Europe. It continued that Albanian criminals are involved in both international and domestic human smuggling operations.

In terms of weapons, trading is relatively low in Albania but many weapons left over from civil unrest in 1997 are available on the market. Arms trafficking routes from Albania to EU countries are either inland, moving north through the Balkans or Greece, or seaborne to Western Europe.

Albania is also “home to a small but significant market for illegal oil extraction, which is facilitated by corrupt practices on the part of state officials.” The report said that while the market does not involve major organized crime groups, there are reported links between the latter and state officials.

The country continues to be a hotspot for drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis. Heroin is trafficked through the country to Europe from Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Local heroin processing labs have also been found. Cocaine trafficking is conducted in collaboration with Latin American cartels and the Mafia.

“Albanian criminal groups, however, are not just engaged in trafficking cocaine to Europe, but are also involved in its storage and distribution, and have increasingly consolidated their influence over wholesalers and retail markets across the continent.”

It scored even worse for criminal actors, with 6 points, alongside Haiti and Azerbaijan. Concerning criminal factions included mafia-style groups, criminal networks, and state-embedded actors.

The Albanian criminal ecosystem is dominated by overlapping criminal networks and mafia-style organisations. They control the markets for drugs, human trafficking, smuggling and public procurement. The report called them some of the most powerful criminal organizations in Europe.

Criminals collude with state-embedded actors

Even more concerningly, the report said that these groups “collude with state-embedded actors and are able to influence elections by pushing votes in one direction or the other.”

“Reportedly, crime group members have been appointed to political positions at various levels within the state apparatus. Criminal networks are highly embedded in local- and regional-level structures and operate with the police and receive political protection,’ it continues.

Not only does Albania suffer high levels of criminality, but it has low resilience. According to the report, this is caused by a lack of government transparency and accountability, the judicial system, law enforcement, and political leadership and governance.

Counter-measures such as anti-money laundering systems, economic, regulatory capacity and victim and witness support remain low and ineffective. 

Criminal state capture has reduced the Albanian authorities ability to tackle organized crime. While they’ve put corruption and crime high on the political agenda, the process is low and grand corruption persists.

The report accuses the justice system of lacking and adds that “corruption undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

It notes the existence of the justice reform but notes that it’s delayed and inadequate. Additionally, it said that prosecutions fail to target the upper echelons of organizations and the number of convictions is limited.

Little progress in the fight against crime

“Overall, this translates into little progress being made in the fight against organized crime.”

Albania’s ‘high criminality” and “low resilience” puts it alongside 57 other countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Russia and Ukraine. Other countries in the group include Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.

The report reads that while Albania is more stable than some of the other countries in this group, “democratic values and upholding of the rule of law have been compromised, thereby reducing their ability to address organized crime effectively.”

It continues, “Addressing resilience deficits, particularly those that centre on governance, would be a meaningful goal for such countries, but in many cases would be unrealistic to achieve without political will. States in this quadrant may therefore benefit from expanding the space in which civil society, the media and private sector can operate.”