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Balkan Organized Crime

The term Balkan Organized Crime applies to organized crime groups originating from or operating in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania.

Balkan organized crime is an emerging threat in the U.S. While several groups are active in various cities across the country, they do not yet demonstrate the established criminal sophistication of traditional Eurasian or La Cosa Nostra (LCN) organizations. However, they have proven themselves capable of adapting to expanding criminal markets and becoming involved in new activities, much like the historical growth of other organized crime groups.

Organized crime in the Balkans has its roots in the traditional clan structures. In these largely rural countries, people organized into clans with large familial ties for protection and mutual assistance. Starting in the 15th century, clan relationships operated under the kanun, or code, which values loyalty and besa, or secrecy. Each clan established itself in specific territories and controlled all activities in that territory. Protection of activities and interests often led to violence between the clans. The elements inherent in the structure of the clans provided the perfect backbone for what is considered modern-day Balkan organized crime.

Many years of communist rule led to black market activities in the Balkans, but the impact of these activities was limited to the region. When communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it led to the expansion of Balkan organized crime activities. Criminal markets once closed to Balkan groups suddenly opened, and this led to the creation of an international network. Within the Balkans, organized crime groups infiltrated the new democratic institutions, further expanding their profit opportunities.

Balkan criminal organizations have been active in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. At first, these organizations were involved in low-level crimes, including bank robberies, ATM burglaries, and home invasions. Later, ethnic Albanians affiliated themselves with the established LCN families in New York, acting as low-level participants. As their communities and presence have become more established, they have expanded to lead and control their own organizations.

There is no single Balkan Mafia, structured hierarchically like the traditional LCN. Rather, Balkan organized crime groups in the US translated their clan-like structure to the United States. They are not clearly defined or organized and are instead grouped around a central leader or leaders. Organized crime figures maintain ties back to the Balkan region and have established close-knit communities in many cities across the nation.

Albanian organized crime activities in the U.S. include gambling, money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, violent witness intimidation, robbery, attempted murder, and murder. Balkan organized crime groups have recently expanded into more sophisticated crimes including real estate fraud.

In 2012 Bulgaria established a specialised court and prosecutor's office for organised crime, which by 2016 began to produce some results in terms of cases being brought to court as well as a number of convictions. However, cases involving serious organised crime continue to be hampered by complex provisions and formalistic criminal procedures. There remained indications of serious intimidation of witnesses, undermining cases.

Bulgaria needed to establish a solid track record showing that final court decisions are reached and enforced in cases involving serious organised crime. The severity of the challenge was underlined by several murders with apparent links to organised crime. A large number of contract killings over recent years remain unsolved.

In 2015 Bulgaria amended its procedural code to address problems identified in previous CVM reports with regard to criminals absconding and the specialised prosecutor's office being burdened with minor cases not linked to organised crime. It is still too early to assess the impact of these amendments.

Bulgaria also amended the law on confiscation of criminal assets in 2012. As cases under the old law are being concluded and replaced by new cases, experience with the new law has resulted in the identification of a series of problems, which necessitate legislative change. The asset forfeiture commission has prepared detailed proposals to address the problems, which the EU said deserved early consideration by the National Assembly.

The specialised investigatory service dealing with organised crime was transferred back to the Ministry of Interior at the beginning of 2015, after having been located at the State Agency for National Security (SANS) since 2013. This time the transfer was better organised than in 2013 but nevertheless still resulted in a certain amount of disruption. It will be important now that the organised crime directorate is given the stability and resources it needs to do its work. A number of legal issues have been identified in the law which implemented the transfer, in particular in regard to the legal definition of the competencies of the organised crime directorate, which seem to constitute an unnecessary restriction on its actions.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2016 16:54:36 ZULU