Traffic and money laundering, a cause for growing concern

Traffic and money laundering, a cause for growing concern

This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and

By Plator Nesturi

Traffic of narcotics by Albanian gangs occupies once again a special place on European media, at a time when we’re trying to convince member countries to take a positive decision about the opening of negotiations with the EU. First, authorities in Spain seize a ton of cocaine arriving from Columbia, where two Albanian nationals are arrested as part of a structured criminal group dealing in the traffic of narcotic substances originating from Latin America to Europe. Along with the amount of drugs, authorities also seized 1.5 million euros, which was the payment for the transport carried out through a charter. At the same time, another large amount of cannabis is seized in Italy. Two tons of marijuana coming from Albania, while Albanian nationals are once again on the spotlight. According to police, these people had criminal records for previous involvement in the traffic of narcotics. As if these weren’t enough, the US State Department places Albania for the second year in a row in the list of countries where drug money is laundered. The laundering of this money is a result of the weakness of state institutions to fight this phenomenon, the fact that financial institutions allow such big amounts of money to enter the country and also a result of the fact that this money is easily laundered in the construction sector, mainly through constructions in the coastline for purposes of tourism and gambling sector.

In fact, this problem that relates to the traffic of narcotics and the use of dirty money in the economy, the connections of crime with politics, have been a real concern in the past few years. The media and political debate has recently focused on the levels of crime in the country, not only as a matter of public order, but for crime as a phenomenon which is closely tied to politics, used by politics and the fact that the political class facilitates criminal activity in exchange of support in electoral campaigns. All of this becomes a cause for the growth of insecurity on the streets and public spaces, but also for the failure of state structures to prevent crime and the traffic of narcotics. Let us recall the video footage in Elbasan where the city’s “tough guys” defied police forces by crashing their vehicle, while police had no courage to react. This situation, which will also lead to a rise in street crime, has mounted concerns among citizens and it must be said that reactions have mainly come from public opinion and the media.  The opposition too has  joined public’s outcry by launching direct accusations from parliament. Of course, this is a good thing. When there’s abusiveness and undermining of the state’s authority, everyone should react. But all of this looks like a cowardly reaction.

Crime and the world surrounding it were not invented today. They’ve been there for ages and their aim is not to embrace political ideas, but make a quick profit. Therefore, while the comments made by the US ambassador or some other international institution refer to a growing threat that crime is posing in the country saying that there are four mob clans and 20 crime families in the criminal world, this shows that this sort of reality has been shaped over a relatively long period of time, where all the political sides have closed their eyes in front of criminal activities which have enriched and made these clans or families more powerful.

The power that the crime has doesn’t depend on its behavior toward police, but the economic strength that it manages to accumulate. The heads of criminal groups do not undermine police on the streets, but they make deals on how to invest their money and they do this in expensive restaurants and often, with politicians from both sides on the table. Crime and corruption have turned into a binomial and if one is to be hit, then both of them will be suffering the blow. All European institutions are recommending us to wage a pitiless war against crime and corruption. This is why the approach that the opposition is taking about the growth of criminality, seems insincere. By tackling street crime and not the essence of the problem, it looks as if it wants to open up a window of cooperation with the underworld once the latter sees that the balance of power is aiming toward today’s opposition. In this case, crime opens up for collaboration.

Years ago, the dissolution of the Task Force at the Prosecution of Tirana, was seriously criticized by the US embassy and the EU authorities.  Not only money was wasted because the prosecutors and judges in question were trained, but this specialized structure was also operating in the area of financial crime. And where there is financial crime, there’s the street crime, traffic, corruption and other types of crime. The entire political class kept quiet in that case. Even the rightists, who are in opposition today, considered it as something trivial. Perhaps today, we desperately need extreme measures in order not to be all infected by this. The vetting process is only a starting point, while SPAK is the continuation, because we should not forget that crime managed to penetrate parliament and it has spread its roots in the economy, in construction and every other sector. There’s a lot to do, but it cannot be fought without a general political will.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy