New report: Albania’s Hotspot for Drugs, Human Trafficking and Money Laundering – Released
Law enforcement in the Western Balkans must start tackling assets and proceeds of crime if they are to have a significant impact on drug and human trafficking.
It is according to a new report by the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South-Eastern Europe (SEE-Obs) of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).
The report provides a detailed overview of drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking in the Western Balkans.
Albania is a âhot spotâ for human trafficking, especially on its southern border with Greece. The report finds that the number of illegal migrants rose from 1,978 in 2013 to nearly 12,000 at the end of 2020. The increase, he notes, has been particularly dramatic since 2018.
The report confirms Exit’s investigations which found that many migrants pass through the country with the help of repairers, guards and parcel sellers. These systems include transportation in small groups in rented vehicles and the use of safe houses. Researchers have also heard stories that police and border guards often work to help migrants or to look away during transport – for a fee.
An Albanian lawyer told researchers;
âYou cannot move immigrants from one country to another or provide transportation without the support of the local police. Because there are police checkpointsâ¦ how come they weren’t stopped along the way? “
As for the value of the human trafficking sector in Albania, the report estimates that it was worth up to â¬ 29 million in 2020 alone.
In terms of drugs, cannabis cultivation is mainly cultivated in the highlands of Dukagjin and Kruja as well as in Vlora. The report also states that it was found in Memaliaj, Tepelena, Gjirokaster, Fier, Librazhd, Lezhe, Mallakastra, Bulqize, Devoll and Lac. From Albania, it is transported to Italy, or by Ohrid to Greece. Some go to Turkey and others go to the EU via the Kukes and Kosovo.
The heroine enters Albania from the Kukes of the Qafe Thane border with North Macedonia. Over 200 kg of drugs have been seized over the past five years. Albania is believed to be both a destination country and a transit country.
However, heroin labs can be found in Fushe Kruja and Has, and it is suspected that there are additional labs in Elbasan and Kukes.
But when it comes to cocaine, Albania holds the record for the most seizures. Durres remains the main point of entry for large shipments of drugs, usually hidden in fruit from Latin America.
According to the report, the drug hotspot in Albania is the town of Kukes in the north, described as “a key axis for smuggling cannabis to the east and heroin to the west”.
With regard to the proceeds of crime, bars, restaurants and clubs in southern Albania are particularly popular destinations for money laundering.
Another popular way of money laundering in Albania is to take out bank loans and then act as guarantors for construction companies. Data from the Bank of Albania showed an increase in mortgage lending in recent years and a 10% increase in 2020, despite the country being locked down for the most part.
The report also noted Tirana’s building book and a surge in house prices. Analysis showed that the average residential apartment in Tirana had doubled in just three years. It was the same story in Vlora with hotels and beachfront properties.
The report notes that âadditional luxury projects are currently planned in the city center [Tirana] that do not reflect market forces. “
Indeed, during the pandemic, there was an all-time high in the area approved for building permits, the highest since 2008 and despite the economy shrinking by more than 10%.