Albanian prosecutors announce mass arrest of gang leaders
Albania’s Special Prosecutor’s Office SPAK on Thursday issued some 32 arrest warrants for some of the country’s most notorious underworld figures, following investigations into murders and attempted murders.
“We have identified the existence of eight structured criminal groups with their main activity in Tirana, Durres and Elbasan,” SPAK leader Arben Kraja told a press conference. He described the groups as “very violent” and “very organized”.
“Investigation revealed that these criminal groups were able to pay large sums to execute their opponents,” Kraja said.
Some 18 criminal episodes that had been investigated separately were brought together in a single file.
The operation was welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama.
“Today’s Operation SPAK and State Police is the most comprehensive example of law enforcement building up and a strong resolve to strike down organized crime with the force of law” , Rama said on Twitter.
Prosecutors appeared to make a breakthrough after the arrest of Nuredin Dumani, 35, who was arrested on March 29 following an attempted murder in which Dumani, who was on the run from police on charges of murder, was injured .
Police raided some 28 homes and offices using specialist forces while 18 people were arrested. However, about half of them were arrested while already in prison for other reasons, and some notorious underworld figures have not been found. A police officer was arrested for abuse of power in connection with the investigation.
Asked about the missing suspects, Kraja said they had no reason to be concerned about the leaks while refusing to provide more information due to the “secrecy of the operation”.
Among those missing was Suel Cela of Elbasan, who had been repeatedly investigated in the past for alleged crimes but managed to escape.
In September 2017, Cela was charged with ramming a police cruiser that was blocking the gate to his property. More than the actual incident, the event caused a shock as security camera footage showed how special police forces stopped and did not follow up, meaning the city indeed has areas prohibited where the police dare not enter. This was found not guilty by the court.
Elvis Martinaj, known as the king of the casino, who was investigated following a shooting at a luxury club in Tirana, also managed to free himself.
Elbasan has a long history of revenge killings and is considered one of the hotspots for crime in the country. It is also where criminal gangs often interfere in elections, with competing groups lending their support to various parties.
In March, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Aqif Rakipi, a local politician, for his involvement in organized crime.
“Rakipi has a long history of involvement in organized crime and is closely associated with an OCG, where he has exercised political influence, including through corruption,” the US statement said.
This is not the first time that prosecutors have tried to break up notorious criminal organizations. Several previous attempts have been made to put behind bars some of those targeted by this latest operation, but have failed.