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Albania - Crime

Organized criminal activity occurs in all regions of Albania. Corruption is pervasive. Police and news outlets often report small-scale, sporadic incidents of violence. High unemployment and other economic factors encourage criminal activity. Crime statistics indicate a steady increase in violent crime has occurred throughout Albania since 2009. Organized crime is present in Albania; organized criminal activity occasionally results in violent confrontations between members of rival organizations.

Blood feuds continue to plague life in isolated areas of the country. As many as 1,000 families nationwide fear reprisal related to blood revenge. The blood feud is an anachronistic practice codified in the Canon of Leke Dukagjini, a code of law that emerged in the 15th century to govern life in the isolated north of Albania. This tradition was banned by the communist regime and ruthlessly suppressed, but took hold again in the chaos after the collapse of communism. The Code says that serious wrongdoing must be avenged by killing a male member of the family that committed the wrong. This in turn leads to a cycle of killings that put at risk all male members of the extended family. Feuds can go on for years or generations.

It is important to note the that blood feud killings in Albania are rare - the Ministry of Interior reported that in 2009 there have been only four deaths related to blood feuds - the lowest number in 18 years. According to the Nationwide Reconciliation Committee, whose aim is to mediate interfamily revenge killings, more than 800 children across Albania are essentially imprisoned in their own homes, unable to leave out of fear of death. For this reason these children do not attend school. Attempts were made by the Ministry of Education this year to develop special home-schooling curricula. According to media reports, however, the home schooling by qualified teachers has not commenced yet.

Although the concept of "blood feuds" is an ancient one, based on Albania's original code of law and honor (the "Kanun"), the sporadic modern application of the Kanun deviates from its original context, degenerating from even the specific reasons that were allowable for revenge at the height of its influence in the sixteenth century. However, as Albanian society continues to modernize, the government strives to demonstrate to all Albanians that justice is best served through a strong and competent judicial system rather than vigilante acts.

Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crimes are more common at night. Crime statistics show annual increases in all violent crimes, including murder, burglary and armed robbery since 2009. This also includes targeted explosions with 70 such explosions having occurred in 2012. Most were from remotely detonated car bombs or explosives placed at private residences.

Trafficking in narcotics in Albania continues as one of the most lucrative illicit occupations available. Organized crime groups use Albania as a transit point for drugs and other types of smuggling, due to the country's strategic location, porous borders, weak law enforcement, and unreformed judicial systems. Albania remains a transit country for Afghan heroin and a source country for marijuana, especially to Italy and Greece.

In April 2006, in an attempt to curb trafficking and improve Albania's tarnished image, the Government of Albania (GOA) approved a three-year term ban on speed boats and other small, motorized water craft along the coastline. At the time, and despite resistance by stakeholders and the opposition, the moratorium was generally encouraged by average citizens on the grounds that it would provide the government time to build the necessary infrastructure and improve capacities to fight trafficking of human beings and smuggling of goods, and contribute in Albania's integration to Euro-Atlantic structures. The decision was also praised by foreign governments, particularly Italy, which considered the decision a positive sign. To some extent, since Albania lacked the necessary capacities and infrastructure for its coastguard to effectively patrol the entire coastline and territorial waters, it was agreed that Albania had to pay the price of a total ban on certain types of boats as it sought more liberal visa arrangements with the EU.

More than three and one half years later, when most were expecting the moratorium to be revoked and the Albanian government to demonstrate that it was ready and prepared to fight trafficking, the government instead admitted defeat. It admits that in more than three and one half years it was not able to improve its capacities in fighting trafficking along the coast, and, furthermore that it is ready to again infringe upon the constitution and human rights of its people just to show willingness to fight trafficking. Those measures did not put an end to trafficking, which continued along other routes.

In July 2008 the Serious Crimes Court wrapped up the longest criminal trial in the history of Albania's legal system and sentenced ten members of the so-called "Revenge for Justice" criminal organization to prison. The two leaders of the organization were sentenced to life imprisonment while other member's sentences ranged from ten years to 25 years in prison. This put an end to a trial that has been dragging on since 1996 due to political instability, gang intimidation, and the complexity of the case. The members of the organization were charged with crimes ranging from terrorist attacks, murder of a prison director, bank thefts, burglaries, kidnappings, and a whole slew of minor criminal offences. Unfortunately, only two members of the criminal organization were in Albania for the sentencing. The two main leaders of the gang enjoyed political asylum in Switzerland and were not expected to serve prison any time soon.

All members of Parliament, Ministers, Judges (trial, appellate, Constitutional, and Supreme Courts), Central Election Commission members, the People's Advocate, and the Chairman of the High State Control (an independent body) enjoy Constitutional immunity from prosecution for all criminal offenses. Because of this, there is great incentive for OC figures to obtain positions of power in government.

It is widely accepted locally that many Members of Parliament [MPs] posing as "businessmen" are in fact strongly suspected of having ties to organized crime. These individuals are now MPs, have immunity under the law, and are responsible for making the laws that will propel Albania toward further Euro-Atlantic integration. The seedy, possibly criminal, behavior of many of Albania's MPs is disturbing and does not bode well for democratic development. It is a widely held view throughout Albania that all parties have MPs with links to organized crime and accept money from organized crime. There are a few MPs who have begun to recognize that Albania should not have such characters represented in its parliament. How long it will take though to remove these ruffians from power though is another question. After all, money is the lifeblood of politics, and in a poor country with no campaign finance transparency or tradition of small donors supporting their favorite candidates, criminals are an easy source of campaign funds.

Released from communist-era restrictions on private property ownership, the first item on many families' wish lists was a car. To own a car was a sign of freedom, wealth and prosperity. The newer, more expensive cars, incongruous in a developing country that rates near the bottom of Europe's GDP ranking, are widely available on an informal market which offers autos (usually imported legally but often carrying suspicious backgrounds) at a quarter of the price of authorized car dealers. The situation has created the perfect terrain for a vigorous market of stolen cars from across Europe. These cars are easily imported legally and resold in Albania, the final ring in a long chain of organized traffic initiating in Western Europe. One legend has western car owners participating in the scheme for insurance payments. Until recently, public officials commonly drove such stolen cars.

The lucrative business in stolen cars contributed to Albania's negative image abroad as an organized crime stronghold. The early days after the fall of communism, as well as the time of civil unrest of 1997, provided a fertile environment for lucrative, flourishing organized crime markets, not only in autos, but also trafficking and smuggling. Ineffective and corrupt law enforcement contributed to the circumstances. In some areas, such as trafficking and smuggling, there have been marked improvements since these days (though much improvement remains necessary), as the government responded to internal and international pressure.

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