By Fatjona Mejdini
A new Open Society Foundation report sheds light on a quarter-of-a-century of secret ties between Albanian politics and territorial criminal groups.
A new study by the Open Society Foundation for Albania, presented in Tirana on Friday, reveals how organised crime, business, judiciary, and politics have been tied together for years in a complex relationship based on common interests and exploitation for mutual benefit.
“Criminal organisations have ties with politics, and the latter interferes by neutralising law enforcement agencies through the appointment of trusted persons or party militants,” one of the conclusions of the report reads.
According to it, political parties in Albania have benefited greatly from funds from criminal networks, while the relationship has grown more sophisticated since 2005.
The study notes the many different methods that criminal organisations use: extortion of businesses revenues through fines or by offering so-called “protection” from other gangs; support of political candidates or scaring opponents in elections; manipulation of votes and the funding of electoral campaigns in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution.
One of the interesting findings of the study is also the role that former communist officials from state agencies played in the early years of organised crime in multi-party Albania.
“Infiltration of organized crime into weak Albanian institutions ensured the untouchability of figures involved in organized crime. A large number of these had worked in the past as secret service agents, as officers of the Republican Guard, or even as drivers or sportsmen during the previous regime,” the report said, analysing the early 1990s.
The study, conducted by Fabian Zhilla and Besfort Lamallari, is based on analysis of 71 decisions of the first instance court of serious crimes on about 50 criminal structures.
Researchers also conducted 84 interviews with present and former judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, journalists and representatives of civil society.
The research also pointed out that almost all the main cities of Albania have their own structured crime groups that exercise territorial control, and focus mainly on the trafficking of narcotics, and on extortion and debt collection.
The study contains a map of the key criminal structures in Albania, as of 2015. In Tirana, the researchers evaluate three active criminal organisations; in Shkodra four families; in Durres, one criminal organisation and one family; and in Vlore several criminal groups.
In Berat, the report noted three big crime families, while in Elbasan several families and criminal groups were operating.