Albanian Organized Crime
Albania’s location on the Adriatic coast makes it a prime transit point for international crime, such as trafficking, smuggling, and the related crimes of witness intimidation, document fraud, money laundering, and corruption of public officials. Organized crime and corruption remain the greatest obstacles to the development of Albanian civil society and economy. Government agencies have made some progress to improve their ability to investigate and fight crime, but require continued U.S. government and international support to ensure sustained success.
Albanians began arriving in New York in large numbers in the 1960s, settling in Belmont, a mostly Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. However, following Albania’s near financial collapse in 1997 and the conflict in Kosovo (1998-1999), Albanian crime groups rapidly expanded their operations to Western Europe and the United States. From the late 1990s onward, depictions of the “Albanian Mafia” as a secretive, clan-based organization – resembling the Sicilian Mafia – have become common.
Over the years, Europol, the U.S. State Department, the FBI, and INTERPOL have stated that Albanian criminal groups constitute a major threat to the Western world because of their extreme violence, high levels of secrecy, and the fact that they have quickly graduated from simple criminal service providers (e.g. drug mules, hit men) to working within the highest echelons of international organized crime.
In 2004, the ethnic Albanian “Rudaj” organization (or the “Corporation”), involved mainly in racketeering, extortion, and illegal gambling, was labeled the sixth crime family in New York City, in addition to the five traditional Italian families. Ethnic Albanian organized crime groups are considered to be significant global players. It is the nature of this “presence abroad” that remains unspecified.
None of the groups was the subject of a strategic and well-planned transplantation from the Balkans region to the United States. The migration of most groups was functional, meaning that members moved across borders and traveled abroad mainly when they had “projects” or “deals” to make with other groups, or when they were running from prosecution in the host country. Sometimes their travels to the countries of origin were recreational, or members occasionally invested in real estate in their homelands.
Following a year-long investigation carried out by the Serious Crimes Prosecutor's Office and the Albanian State Police (ASP), the Special Operations Force of the ASP arrested on May 23, 2006 seven members of a drug trafficking and money laundering network. The operation was carried out in simultaneous pre-dawn raids in four cities across Albania: Tirana, Elbasan, Durres, and Vlora.
The investigation was begun last June by the Prosecutor of Serious Crimes, following information obtained from the prosecutor of Florence, Italy, which indicated that the defendants were involved in drug trafficking in the regions of Tuscany and Lombardy in 2003-2004. According to media reports, some of those arrested were wanted by Italian authorities and had fled that country in 2004 following the arrest of 13 other Albanians involved in drug trafficking and organized crime. In addition to trafficking drugs into Italy, the group also reportedly operated in The Netherlands, Germany, and France.
The individuals reportedly invested in construction projects and other fixed assets, including luxury apartments and beach-side villas. Such lucrative investments have become the instrument of choice for money laundering.
There was a strong undercurrent of people tied to organized crime that participated and/or were involved in possibly manipulating the 28 June 2009 elections. The three major parties, the Democratic Party (DP), the Socialist Party (SP) and the Movement for Social Integration (LSI) all had MPs with links to organized crime. The conventional wisdom, backed by other reporting, was that the new parliament had quite a few drug traffickers and money launderers.
It was widely accepted locally that many 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 was disturbing and did 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. This is a very troubling phenomenon.
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