Friday, May 8, 2009

SCE starts election monitoring mission in Albania

Associated Press

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says it has started a mission to monitor Albania's June 28 parliamentary elections.The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said that on Friday it sent a first team of 40 international experts who will assess whether the process complies with international standards.

They will be supported by 400 short-term observers on election day. More than 3 million registered voters will elect 140 legislators under a regional proportional system. The main contestants are Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party and and the main opposition Socialist Party of Tirana Mayor Edi Rama.

Elections in post-communist Albania have been marred frequently by irregularities.
Albanian diplomat arrested in Turkish drug bust

Associated Press

Albania's Foreign Ministry says one of its senior diplomats has been arrested in Turkey on drug trafficking charges.
A statement issued late Thursday says Agim Haxhiu, second secretary at the Albanian embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, was arrested May 2 in western Turkey after his car was searched by police. He is being held in a prison near Istanbul.

Turkish police were not immediately available for comment.

Albania's Foreign Ministry did not comment on local media reports that Haxhiu was caught with 65 kilograms of heroin, but says he has been stripped of his immunity and will face prosecution in Turkey.

Albania is a transit point for drug trafficking in southeast Europe.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Albania police seize 88 lbs. cocaine

Albanian police said they stopped a car at a border crossing with Greece and seized 88 pounds of cocaine.
Three Germans and two Albanians were in the vehicle at the southern Albanian crossing point of Kakavia.

Police officers in Tirana said it was the biggest seizure of contraband drugs in Albania, the Serbian news agency FoNet said Monday.The cocaine, wrapped in 80 packages and stashed in the car, had an estimated value of $660,000 on the street black market, police said.

Albania is on a major Balkan route for smuggling drugs and people from the Middle East and Asia to Europe.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Albania borrows 250 mln euros from Deutsche, Alpha

By Benet Koleka

Reuters. Albania borrowed 250 million euros from Deutsche Bank and Greece's Alpha Bank to fund its investment programme, including a road to newly-independent Kosovo, the Finance Ministry said on Monday.

Securing the financing will help Albania complete ambitious infrastructure projects without borrowing from local banks, boosting the Balkan country's financial stability.

Albania holds parliamentary elections on June 28, and it is not eligible for funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since it has not renewed its accord with the IMF, which sees its GDP grow O.4 percent in 2009 from 6.8 percent in 2008.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The EU door starts to open for Albania, a bit

Interview with: Sali Berisha, Albanian Prime Minister, 3 May 2009

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha stopped by New Europe’s NETV booth during the European People’s Party Congress in Warsaw, Poland on April 30, the same week he formally submitted an application to the European Union for membership, a process that takes some years, but which he said he was glad was finally underway.

It’s been a good spring for the often-overlooked Albania already, as the country, together with Croatia, finally made it into NATO, a springboard toward greater integration into the wider EU community, and he was glad to talk about it, as well as other aspirations for his country, during an interview.

With so much attention on the EU’s next round of expansion, ranging from Croatia to FYROM and, eventually the EU hopes, even to Turkey, Berisha was anxious that his country not be overlooked again, as it often is in the patchwork quilt that makes up the Balkans. Here’s what he had to say:


The new international of organized crime in the Balkans

By Ioannis Michaletos*

“He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it.” Seneca
There are only three ways to become rich; marry the money, invent something or steal" Unknown

The current global financial crisis coupled with the perennial instability of the Balkans raises suspicions around the creation of much stronger organized crime groups that will be able to dictate their rules of the game to both local governments and international institutions.
Already a trend emerges which has not be fully measured nor examined by the media that illustrates a significant rise in illegal activities and a sure rise in the criminal rates.

According to many reliable local sources, criminal gangs tend to merge and form much stronger teams that are often involved in more than one illegal sector and in parallel orchestrate multidimensional operations such as bank robberies in one country and narcotics contraband in another with a timely fashion and a well coordinated structure.

The latest report by the State Department which was issued on the 27th of February 2009, points out that all Balkan states have serious organized crime problems and the local authorities have a great challenge to overcome.

Albania is considered as a transit country for the heroin trafficking from Afghanistan o Western Europe, as well as a production country of large quantities of Cannabis that are exported mainly through Greece and Italy to other EU states.

Bosnia Herzegovina has a serious problem concerning the political clout crime kingpins exercise in its domestic political life, an issue directly related to drug trade, the modern white slave trade and the illegal immigration networks.

Bulgaria has been hit by a recent crime wave, and the domestic crime groups are more involved into synthetic drugs distribution and cocaine as well.

Greece is also hit by a crime wave involving armed robberies and weapons trafficking, and the general trend reveals an at least 20% rise in criminal rates on an annual basis. Illegal immigration networks also operate which gain millions of Euros per month by exploiting mostly Asian and African groups of people.

Montenegro is influenced by cocaine trade from Latin America, a similar pattern with Croatia. Both countries are also exit points for heroin distribution from Kosovo to Western Europe, as well as arms trafficking.

In Serbian drug use has increased and the role of private security firms operating as mafia front companies is being in question.

Romania is the least influenced by organized crime activities, but its Constanja port is being influenced by Albanian organized crime networks relating to narcotics trade, whilst Kosovo remains the undisputed center of every major crime related network in the region. The current fall in remittances from the Albanian Diaspora will most certainly give a rise in street crime in the Kosovo province in the near future.

FYROM is experiencing issues concerning its role as a transit country for illegal immigration from Kosovo to Europe and from Asia as well. Moreover criminal gangs are well into the contraband trade of light arms, mainly Kalashnikovs.

Turkey remains the undisputable geoeconomic bridge between the Asian criminal networks, and the Balkans which mainly operate as a physical traverse route towards the large markets of the core countries of the EU, Germany, Italy, France and the UK.

Moreover there is a general upward tendency for contract killings in the Balkans, with the Albanian and the Bulgarian mafias, thought as the main culprits.
The impact of a Balkan organized crime powerful web cannot be more illustrative that in the Kosovo region. Populated by approximately 1,5 million permanent citizens, it has probably the highest number per thousand people of new constructions and gas stations, although unemployment reaches over 40% and official exports do not account more than 5-7% of the GDP.

The extent by which the local networks are able to formulate their international strategies is truly impressive. Most of the heads of the mafia reside in Kosovo, but there are considerable outposts of importance in a wide global geographical terrain stretching from Milano, Zurich to Vienna and Copenhagen, London to New York and Brussels.

In Kosovo alone the unresolved court cases reach up to 300,000 (One for every five citizens) and the respect for the rule of law according to numerous reports from media such as the -BBC, Guardian, Der Spiegel, Washington Post or security services from various countries, like Italy, Germany and UK- is completely out of touch with the accustomed norms in Europe.

Mari Foucci of the Kosovo Trust Agency in 2004 has complained that most of the developmental aid did not reach the local economy but instead was directed towards the local mafia groups. It is important to highlight that more than a third of Kosovo’s GDP derives from external aid.
The issue grows bigger if one adds the gross misconducts done by UN employees since 1999, and a lot of relevant documents can be found in open intelligence sources such as the wikileaks. Already former UN employees have made joint companies in Kosovo in collaboration with figures related to organized crime and an emerging global corrupted nomenclature is taking control of Kosovo's economy in full extent.

The globalization process has enabled Balkan related crime groups to expand at a staggering pace across the world, thus making local security issues of a global concern.
A very brief note on the above can be easily traced by recent news updates. In Bolivia a team of suspected assassins of President Morales was disband and the leader of the group was revealed to be Rozsa Flores, of Croatian-Spanish descent who back in 1991 was the head of the Prvi Internacionalni Vod, an international paramilitary brigade that fought alongside the Croatian Army against the Serbs in Bosnia.

Around 95% of the members of this brigade had a criminal record and Flores who died in an exchange of fire in Santa Cruz in Bolivia, was prima facie an international mercenary accused of several executions including one of a photo reporter from Britain. The strong man of the Santa Cruz province and the primal opponent of Morales is the Croatian émigré Branko Marinkovi? . According to many he played a role in the attempted coup and assassination plot having also the role of the nexus between this Andean country and the Adriatic coast states of Croatia and Montenegro.

In another news item from the London Daily News, it was revealed that London has become a center for the employment of Albanian hired assassins who offer the services for 5,000 Sterling Pounds and serve as the iron fist for dozens of criminal gangs in the UK. Most of those found refuge in the country by applying with false papers for political asylum in the aftermath of the Kosovo war in 1999, but have already established themselves by engaging in heavy crime activities in that country. Similar experiences have been made public in Scandinavian countries and in Switzerland for over a generation now.

Moreover, a much worrying trend is the formation of ethnically mixed gangs in the Balkans that tend to recruit people from various states and conduct their operations by adapting fully to the local environment. For the moment there seems to be a combination of Bulgarian and Romanian gangs and of Croatian& Montenegrins ones. The Albanians often join Greek gangs in Greece and the Turks are well-placed within gangs in FYROM, Kosovo and Bulgaria.

Further, "Yugoslavian" gangs encompassing citizens from most ex-federation countries are active as well as networks including Middle Eastern and Western Europeans. Thus the work of the security services becomes more complicated; whilst the criminals can use the outreaches of their individual members so as to penetrate easier each country, acquire much needed information and local resources.

Lastly the current criminal groups in the Balkans, have already amassed a significant amount of capital that cannot be numerated precisely but it can be safely assumed that is reaches quite a few billions of Euros, along with thousands of properties and merchant companies.
Thus, sooner or later this criminal capital will have to be laundered through the legal system so as for the older generation -at least- to disengage itself from outlaw activities and ripe the fruits of law abiding business activity. That requires the collaboration of financial institutions which more likely will be concentrated in the Balkans, since the rest of the European banking system would not simply allow such a massive breach of regulations and most importantly a change of balance in the already established equilibrium of capital power in Europe as it exists since the end of WW2.

The Balkans already known for their corrupted public sector and their proximity with the Middle East will most likely become an important world hub for money laundering and the creation of business elite with a direct criminal background.
In a nutshell, organized crime is still a main threat for the stability of the region and an important aspect when dealing with Pan-European security affairs and the role of the underworld in the modern globalized world.

The signs of the era call for some definite and well structured action by the agencies involved before the situation become unconstrained and create a situation non-containable with the present day conventional methods.

*: Ioannis Michaletos is an Associate Analyst in the International Security Research & Intelligence Agency and a South Eastern European Editor in the World Security Network Foundation.