The role of Kosovo and Albanian gangs in drug trafficking in Europe

Source: Reporteri

"Since 1999, Kosovo has been Europe's dark hole, where no relevant legal, political, or security system exists to prevent organized crime activities, particularly drug cartels that handle billions of euros annually."

Compiled by: Milos Garic

Reports from specialized agencies and some European media indicate that in the past 20 years, Kosovo, along with Albania, has become the main transit drug center of Europe, where two global flows converge today – cocaine via Africa and heroin via Turkey. On the other hand, there is a targeted transfer to European Union countries.

According to rough estimates, more than 50 tons of heroin pass through Kosovo annually, and the profit from transit during the same period, just from this business, exceeds three billion euros, which is, for example, the entire Kosovo budget for 2024.

The BBC reports that it has seen evidence that in recent years, Albanian drug gangs have used migrant camps in northern France as recruiting centers, offering to pay for crossings to those willing to work in the British drug industry afterward.

That Albanian drug gangs lead the way in Europe in terms of drug trafficking is, therefore, nothing new. Police forces in all European countries are aware of this, but the topic gains attention when shocking reports appear in influential media.

The German Bild recently published an exclusive article titled "Cocaine – How White Poison Reaches Germany," documenting how Albanian mafia gangs play a significant role in smuggling cocaine from South America to Europe, mainly through Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg, often involving West Africa, Spain, and Greece. The role of Kosovo and Albania is crucial as they are transit hubs.

The German paper states that drugs are usually hidden in shipments of fruits, especially bananas and frozen fish. Mafia speedboats, whose crews are mostly Albanians, distribute "white poison" across Europe with the help of truck drivers and other lower-level smugglers.

Bild quotes Nancy Faeser, the German Minister of the Interior: “Albanian organized crime, with its ties to South America, is particularly the focus of German investigators.”

The report adds that German investigators know that 32 Albanian organized crime groups control the European cocaine trade at all levels, from production to illegal shipments, through international smuggling, to street-level trading.

What does the US Department of Justice say?

Since 1999, Kosovo has been Europe's dark hole, where no relevant legal, political, or security system exists to prevent organized crime activities. Simultaneously, Kosovo's attempt at secession from Serbia has undermined every political and legal system in that territory, reducing the economy solely to profits from criminal activities, led by drug trafficking.

Security expert Darko Obradovic told Kontekst that the existence of criminal organizations based on territorial or regional ethnicity is not new.

"The focus in terms of prerequisites for a criminal organization is the existence of certain connections between its members and the absence of adequate security countermeasures. Globally, organized crime groups strive to base their operations on members of the same nationality due to trust factors. Over time, the Albanian mafia has taken the lead from Italian criminal syndicates and gained significant roles in both Italian and international underworlds. This advantage is achieved through control of heroin delivery to Europe," Obradovic notes.

He points out that over 20 years ago, the US Department of Justice stated on its official website that 40 percent of the heroin trade is controlled by the Albanian mafia.

"The same report states that their success lies in the traditional loyalty among Albanians, combined with connections to other criminal organizations such as the Italian mafia. They also establish ties with other organizations, including those formed by migrant populations like Algerians and Moroccans. Belgian police statements note that the strength of these criminal organizations lies in their discipline and reliability. However, the Albanian mafia is no longer predominantly focused on heroin, which arrives in Europe from Afghanistan via Iran and Syria. According to public reports, they are establishing long-term connections with cocaine cartels from South America. One alarming report indicates that the Albanian mafia is expanding its presence in North Africa. This is particularly concerning because it means they are establishing control at the source of the threat to Europe," Obradovic points out.

A Europol report indicates that the illegal "business" of smuggling migrants generates between five to six billion dollars in profit for criminal organizations involved in this activity.

"The Albanian mafia is said to control a significant part of the migrant route from North Africa through the Balkans to Western Europe, where it acts as a branch of Kurdish, Syrian, and Moroccan gangs. Italian and Albanian authorities undertake major operations every year to dismantle drug trafficking networks operating in coordination from these two countries, the primary bases of the Albanian mafia. Most of these operations involve international police cooperation resulting in arrests in Germany and the United Kingdom. Kosovo, as an area without the rule of law and basic state authority, represents one of the main points for the expansion of pan-European criminal syndicates, relying on the notorious association of '15 families' from northern Albania," adds Darko Obradovic.

So far, however, no one has seriously addressed the scale of illegal activity generated and projected from the territory of Kosovo.

"Reports indicate that the Albanian mafia and associated organizations have the ability to corrupt a large number of public officials across Europe, even influencing electoral processes. Such characteristics were previously typical of Italian mafia organizations in Europe and South American cartels in Mexico and Colombia. How do you explain the large quantities of cocaine arriving in Northern European ports? Operations like Trojan Shield and the dismantling of the Sky application have shown that the amount of drugs in Northern European ports was 300 percent higher than official estimates," Obradovic points out.

As one of the responses to this problem, constant emphasis is placed on identifying, targeting, and dismantling dangerous criminal families and clans – organized criminal groups.

"It is essential that this always happens at the source. For example, the problem with smuggling illicit substances lies at the place of origin, not at the place of transport, because there will always be organizations and individuals willing to take the risk and engage in such activities. The same is true for mafia organizations from Kosovo; the problem needs to be addressed at the source. This is why regional and international intelligence cooperation between Serbia, Albania, the United States, Europol, and individual EU member states is crucial. The cooperation between Serbia and Hungary in controlling the migrant crisis provides a good basis for cooperation between Serbia and Albania in the field of security. The Albanian mafia poses a security challenge that affects all of Europe, not just the Western Balkans region," concludes Obradovic.

A Different Perspective from Pristina

Security expert from Pristina, Bedri Elezi, has a somewhat different view of this problem.

"At the Kosovo Institute for International Studies, we continuously deal with the security situation, particularly the activities of serious criminal offenses such as drug trafficking. Through our activities monitoring the publication of reports on narcotics smuggling in Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, we have obtained data on areas of influence and territories where criminal groups, particularly drug traffickers, operate. In the reports you cited, Kosovo and Albania are mentioned as countries suspected of drug transportation. In fact, the report does not mention the clans responsible for these criminal activities. According to the information we have, Serbian criminals are at the head of criminal groups on the Balkan Peninsula and Europe, working closely with criminal groups in Kosovo and Albania," Elezi tells Kontekst.

Like the political leadership in Pristina, he points to northern Kosovo and the four municipalities with a majority Serbian population as the springboards for drug transport.

"Criminals have no borders and nationalities but are united in criminal activities for illicit gain. Law enforcement agencies across the region must work together, regardless of political issues, to vigorously combat these complex and sensitive cases. The Balkan states can demonstrate exceptional performance in fighting criminal groups, showing that the integration of Balkan states into the EU is urgent and necessary," says Bedri Elezi.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's services are presenting alarming data. The number of drug users in Kosovo and Metohija has dramatically increased in recent years. In the first quarter of 2024, compared to the same period last year, statistics from the Psychiatric Clinic in Pristina particularly highlight the increase in the number of women and minors aged 10-11 who consume narcotics. According to these statistics, in previous years, the dominant age group for drug use was 14-18 years, but there are now cases among minors as young as 10.

Security expert Xhevad Galijashevic has repeatedly emphasized that the border between Kosovo and Albania practically does not exist because there is no protection or control there at all.

"It is no wonder that a member of Self-Determination was recently caught with ecstasy in Albania, not at the border. This shows that both Kosovo and Albania have silently erased border control and are moving towards integrating that area as a single entity. This is even outlined in Self-Determination's political program. Self-Determination is a terrorist structure, and this is just another argument supporting that claim. They spread fear and do everything to expel Serbs from Kosovo through constant pressure. They finance this project with crime," says Galijashevic.

He recalls that the Albanian, and especially the Kosovo economy, is largely based on organized crime, namely drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and human trafficking.

Rama - Panama - Blair

In a column in the Washington Examiner, the author notes that criminals buy a kilogram of cocaine in South America for $2,500 and sell it across Europe for up to $80,000, which represents a 30-fold increase in profit. The article particularly highlights information from Bild that Albanian mafia members are advancing in Germany due to political connections, and the German federal police consider the problem so serious that they have established a special group solely to combat organized crime by ethnic Albanians.

"So far, more than 320 people have been charged with drug trafficking-related crimes, while German police have seized 2.8 tons of cocaine plus nearly a ton of marijuana, hashish, and heroin. The problem is that the narco-mafia has connections in Albanian politics at the highest levels. German and international investigators also have the family of Prime Minister Edi Rama on their radar. His brother is under investigation in connection with a major cocaine trafficking network operating in the German city of Hanover. Prime Minister Rama himself is the subject of an investigation, according to US court documents, for bribing the head of the FBI's counterintelligence service in New York, Charles McGonigal, with a payment of $250,000," the article states.

Security expert and political analyst Ivan Miletic warns that today some officials in Washington and Brussels believe that Serbs should accept the national loss of Kosovo and trade it for the proclaimed values of what is called the post-Christian era of Europe and to appease the discontented young Albanians, who are desperate over the economic decline of both Albania and Kosovo.

"More than 16 percent of all asylum seekers in Britain are Albanians, of which 88 percent are women. British police data show that the Albanian mafia completely controls the drug market there and is so brutal that they have practically wiped out all other ethnic criminal groups. The same is true for the port of Antwerp in Belgium, which is entirely under the control of the Albanian mafia, using it as an entry point for cocaine into the European market," states Miletic.

The project of an independent Kosovo has long resembled similar "democratic projects" of the West, such as Bolivia and Panama, where stability is bought with a drug economy.

Tony Blair, as the main sponsor of the NATO intervention against Serbia, probably never dreamed that 25 years later, the British Isles would be flooded with asylum seekers of Albanian origin, who bring with them drug and human trafficking, as a result of liberation from what they called the repression and constraints of the Serbian police. However, this did not prevent Blair from coming to Pristina a few days ago to once again give his unconditional support to the failed project, based on mass crime and horrific organized crime.