The Albanian Mafia (AM) or Albanian Organized Crime (AOC) are the general terms used for various criminal organizations based inAlbania or composed of ethnic Albanians. Albanian criminals are significantly active in the United States and the European Union (EU) countries, participating in a diverse range of criminal enterprises including drug and arms trafficking. Although the term “mafia” is often used as a description, it does not imply that all Albanian criminal activities are coordinated or regulated by an overarching governing body headquartered in Albania proper, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia or elsewhere.
The Kosovo War played a key role in the rise of the Albanian mafia throughout Europe. Traditionally, heroin had been transported to Western Europe from Turkey via Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This route had closed as a result of the war and Albanian gangs found themselves in an ideal position to guarantee safe routes through the war zone, at first only assisting other criminal groups but eventually growing powerful enough to take over on their own. A key base of operations was Veliki Trnovac in southern Serbia, which quickly gave it the nickname the “Medellín of the Balkans”. Once the war had reached Kosovo proper, ethnic Albanians were added to the list of nationals qualifying for ‘refugee’ status. Since it was impossible to tell Kosovar Albanians from the rest, gangsters took advantage of the situation and spread quickly throughout Europe, first going to Albanian communities in Germany and Switzerland and taking over the heroin trade there.
Albanian-American criminals are said by police to be involved in everything from gun-running to counterfeiting. But it is drug trafficking that has gained Albanian organized crime the most notoriety. Some Albanians, according to federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials, are key traders in the “Balkan connection,” the Istanbul-to-Belgrade heroin route. DEA officials estimated that, while less well known than the so-called Sicilian and French connections, the Balkan route might have been moving, around 1985, 25% to 40% of the U.S. heroin supply.
Relationship with the KLA
The nature of the relationship between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Albanian organized crime has been a controversial subject. During the 1990s the KLA was viewed by many, including top US government personnel, as a freedom fighting organization struggling for the rights of ethnic Albanians, while others claimed that the KLA was a terrorist group financed and guided by the United States. For example, Senator Joe Lieberman said regarding the KLA: “The United States and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same values and principles… fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values.” In 1999 the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee accentuated widespread allegations of the KLA’s criminal connections, claiming that a “major portion of the KLA finances are derived from [criminal] networks, mainly proceeds from drug trafficking.”
Myth or reality?
Belgian police acknowledge that “although Albanian organised crime has been highly publicised in the last decade, there has been very limited scientific research explaining systematically and rigorously the phenomenon.Only a very limited number of studies have tackled certain aspects of ethnic Albanian criminality in a methodical manner. However, even those studies rely too extensively on sensational media reports. This has obscured serious research still further. Hence, in general, existing scholarly research appears to be fragmented, outdated, and sometimes unreliable”.
In the latest report of the United Nations, it is said that the “Balkans are safer than western Europe” and that “At present, the levels of crime against people and property are lower than elsewhere in Europe”.
Activity in Italy
Steering clear of the south, where the Italian mafia is firmly in command, the Albanians are targeting affluent central and northern areas like Lombardy, Piedmont and Tuscany. Along with the Russian mafia, Nigerian gangsters and the Chinese triads, they are redrawing Italy’s criminal map. However instead of choosing to fight over control with Italian criminal organizations, Albanian mobsters have opted to cooperate in mutual interests instead.
One of Italy’s top prosecutors, Cataldo Motta, who has identified Albania’s most dangerous mobsters, says they are a threat to Western society.
“Albanian organised crime has become a point of reference for all criminal activity today. Everything passes via the Albanians. The road for drugs and arms and people, meaning illegal immigrants destined for Europe, is in Albanian hands.”
When the prosecutor leaves his office, three police bodyguards are at his side because of the risk of assassination by Albanian gangsters.
“The Albanian criminals were special from the beginning,” said Francesca Marcelli, an organized-crime investigator for the Italian government. “When they started appearing here in 1993, they were much different than other immigrants. They have strong motivations and are very violent.”
Activity in the United States
In the United States, Albanian gangs started to be active in the mid-80s, mostly participating in low-level crimes such as burglaries and robberies. Later, they would become affiliated with Cosa Nostra crime families before eventually growing strong enough to operate their own organizations. Albanian organized crime has created new and unique problems for law-enforcement officers around the country, even threatening to displace La Cosa Nostra (LCN) families as kingpins of U.S. crime, according to FBI officials.
Speaking anonymously for Philadelphia’s City Paper a member of the “Kielbasa Posse”, an ethnic Polish mob group, declared in 2002 that Poles are willing to do business with “just about anybody. Dominicans. Blacks. Italians. Asian street gangs. Russians. But they won’t go near the Albanian mob. The Albanians are too violent and too unpredictable.” The Polish mob has told its associates that the Albanians are like the early Sicilian Mafia — clannish, secretive, hypersensitive to any kind of insult and too quick to use violence for the sake of vengeance.
The Rudaj Organization, also called “The Corporation”, was a well known Albanian criminal organization operating in the New York City metro area.
Activity in the United Kingdom
Albanian mafia gangs are believed to be largely behind sex trafficking, immigrants smuggling, as well as competing with Turkish gangs over the heroin trade in the United Kingdom.
Vice squad officers estimate that “Albanians now control more than 75 per cent of the country’s brothels and their operations in London’s Soho alone are worth more than £15 million a year.” They are said to be present in every big city in Britain as well as many smaller ones including Telford and Lancaster, after having fought off rival criminals in turf wars.
Albanian gangsters were also involved in the largest cash robbery in British crime history, the £53 million (about US$92.5 million at the time of the robbery) Securitas heist.
Activity in Belgium
According to the Belgian police department specialized for Albanian organized crime, Albanian mafia clans dominate, leading in the illegal trade, including human trafficking and the sale of cocaine and heroin. The Albanian gangs are spread throughout Europe, police says, adding that Albanian brutality and networks of prostitution rings have made them notorious and dominant in human trafficking in the West.
Belgium is regarded as one of the most important countries for human traffickers, being the last port before entry into Great Britain, and considered the “El Dorado of illegal immigration”.
It is estimated that up to 100,000 illegal immigrants have been transferred to Belgium by Albanians, while some observers warn that this number represents the illegal immigrants in Brussels alone.
Activity in Scandinavia
Albanian mafia clans in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are suspected of being involved in arms smuggling, prostitution, heroin smuggling and armed robberies such as the $10 million heist in Norway’s central bank in 2004.
“The ethnic Albanian mafia is very powerful and extremely violent,” said Kim Kliver, chief investigator for organized crime with the Danish National Police. “If you compare them to the Italian Mafia, the Albanians are stronger and not afraid of killing.” Law enforcement authorities estimate that even a small Albanian gang may smuggle as much as 440 pounds of heroin a year into Scandinavia.