Monday, February 20, 2017

Albania Moves War on Cannabis to Borders



As the drug smuggling season begins, Albanian police are stepping up their observation of sea and land borders, over which criminals continuously try to transport tons of cannabis to Italy and Greece.

Fatjona Mejdini

In the first two months of 2017, police have prevented more than a dozen smuggler attempts to transport tons of cannabis into Italy or Greece, shifting their focus from a war against cannabis cultivation to a fight against its export.

An official Albanian State Police source told BIRN on Friday that the fight against drug smuggling attempts is a top priority at this time of year.

"We have a high alert on this fight right now, starting with control of the sea line, ports, checkpoints and green border lines. We have intensified our permanent control measures, information gathering and our collaboration with our counterparts in neighboring countries," the source said.

"Italian and Greek police have also undertaken their own investigations in attempts to discover those who ordered the loads," they said.

Local media reported at least 15 cases of drug seizures from January 1 with Albanian border police confiscating tons of cannabis that smugglers tried to transport to Italy by motorboat or to Greece by car.

Police in Italy and Greece have additionally reported tens of other cases of cannabis loads being found in their ports, border checkpoints or inside their territories after passing the Albanian border.

Over the last year, Albania reached record levels of cannabis cultivation. On October 8, state police told a joint conference alongside Italian police from the Guardia di Finanza that 2.5 million plants had been destroyed across Albania in the period.

In 2013, the number of destroyed plants stood at 90,000. In 2014, the figure was 530,000 while in 2015 the number was 780,000.

However, police still believe that large quantities of cannabis are being stored all over Albania, ready to be smuggled into neighboring EU countries.

On January 1, state police announced that in collaboration with Italian police officers, they seized a motorboat in the Strait of Otranto carrying 400kg of cannabis.

In the subsequent days and weeks, more cases emerged in which smugglers used different corners of the long sea line of Albania and checkpoints with Greece to transport tons of cannabis.

On Friday Greek border police discovered one ton of cannabis in a truck heading from Kakavije, southern Albania. The driver managed to flee.

Across 2016, Albanian police spent around 5.7 million euros of their annual budget in the fight against cannabis cultivation.

The fight against cannabis in Albania has become a heated political issue, with opposition politicians continuously alleging that the government tolerates drug lords and smuggling in exchange for support in the upcoming campaigning for general elections on June 18.

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