18 August 2006

Narco-Trafficking: Two Reports from the Balkans

Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis - July 17, 2006


Changing Smuggling Routes in Eastern Europe and FYROM Highlight Links Between Mafia and Jihadists


From GIS Station South-Eastern Europe. A UN police surveillance operation conducted in Pristina, the provincial capital of the Albanian-occupied province of Kosovo, in January 2006 discovered that several French Islamists of Moroccan background, who had fled from the French police following the Autumn 2005 ghetto riots in France, were being protected in a "Wahhabi safe house" in the center of Pristina. According to the officer who took charge in the surveillance operation, the parents of the Albanian Wahhabi who allowed the men to hide there were terrified because of the kind of "responsibilities" the son had gotten involved with by joining the "brotherhood".


A couple of months earlier, on October 18, 2005, a Turkish citizen (Erdogan T.) was arrested in his Albanian-licensed Jeep as he tried to enter the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the Kafasan border crossing on Lake Ohrid. He had one kilogram of cocaine, more than four kilos of heroin and a half kilo of hashish, all packed into 19 packages. The man said that the drugs were for the Turkish narco-market, noting: "Macedonia was just a transit zone." But the drug movement in this east-west direction was a notable innovation, say Customs officials, because it represents a new path.


Both incidents showed the changing logistical patterns of two negative forces which are often controlled by the same people: the radical jihadist movement and the mafia business in drugs, firearms and human trafficking. The Balkans is becoming a fertile base for both to flourish, and it is clear that radical Islam and Wahhabist movements have been funded by mafia groups, especially the Albanian and Turkish ones.


First, radical Islamists looking to escape from the European Union by hiding in the Balkans are frequently encountered in all the Muslim-inhabited countries of the region. With EU passports, there is no need for them to acquire visas, and the perennially-corrupt and poorly-enforced borders of Balkan countries in any case make it easy for Islamists to take shelter.


Authorities in Macedonia claim that Islamists in the EU who are in danger of being expelled to their original countries in the Middle East have been using FYROM villages populated by Albanians and Macedonian Muslims (as well as Wahhabi strongholds in the capital, Skopje) to hide for the past two years at least.


And, a former intelligence officer in Skopje who was active during the Yugoslav wars claims that foreign mujahedin who remained in Bosnia following the wars "are being shuffled back and forth" between the countries, now that the US has urged the Bosnian Muslim Government to deport all former foreign fighters. However, jihadi chief Abu Hamza claimed publicly that if the Government did this, the mujahedin would rise up against the Muslim state itself.


This intelligence officer claimed that the movement of mujahedin between the Balkans and other corners of Europe with growing extremist populations was partially being done through the Albanian ports of Drac (Durres) and Valona (Vlore), "on lumber ships traveling to and from Norway and Sweden ... in these two countries, there are two centers of Islamic Relief, which is coordinating the movement of Wahhabi extremists from Scandinavia and the Balkans." For the liaison within FYROM, the source claims, the Islamic NGO El Hilal, in Skopje, was involved.


Other routes for transit of mujahedin are through the mountainous areas of Macedonia and Albania, through Montenegro and its port of Bar, across to Ancona, Italy, and up to Milan, which is a major city for global jihadis with a diverse variety of nationalities represented. Milan has also long been a major city for Albanian migrant workers from the Balkans.


Regarding the drugs trade, a very high-ranking official in FYROM's Customs Administration stated privately to a GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs source early in 2006 several interesting developments.


While the traditional heroin route in this part of the Balkans was from Turkey-Bulgaria-Macedonia, this continues but is complemented by a new one coming from Albania-FYROM (and some cases, on to Turkey or Kosovo). Specifically, the drug route is a short stretch of road which straddles the northern edge of Lake Ohrid, coming from Albania at the Kafasan border crossing and passing through Struga (now Albanian-controlled), and along the western road leading north to Gostivar-Tetovo and then Skopje. From there, the highway continues past Kumanovo to Kriva Palanka on the Bulgarian border crossing of Devet Bajer. This has been the scene of several high-profile arrests in the past year implicating the Albanian-Turkish narco-mafias.


For example, a Macedonian border police action of November 28, 2005, resulted in the seizure of five kilos of heroin in a Turkish-owned passenger bus making the regular trip from Istanbul-Ohrid. One week earlier, the same bus company had been caught at Devet Bajer with 2,800 liters of hard alcohol. Previously, on November 9, 2005, an Istanbul-Struga bus traveling through Bulgaria was found with four kilos of heroin. A prime suspect in these operations was one specific company, Alpar Turism, which operates numerous buses between Turkey and Macedonia.


These seizures and resulting arrests exposed a network of Albanian drug dealers from Skopje, Kumanovo, and Struga, working together with Turkish citizens. Several months ago, police reported the arrest of two Turkish-origin FYROM citizens of the western village of Vrapciste, in separate cases involving people-trafficking in Tirane and heroin smuggling from Turkey.


The new drugs route through Albania has aroused concern. The Customs official told us that "last October [2005], at the Kafasan border, we started to see a big trend from Albania-Macedonia-Kosovo-Serbia, but the media doesn't report this ... In one month 20 kilos of heroin was captured going through there; this is something big."


According to the official, hard drugs like heroin and cocaine as well as synthetics were being supplied through Albania not only for export but now for domestic consumption. "In general, the people involved for consumption of heroin include a high number of Albanians ... this is because it is a 'status' issue, and users of cocaine are more from the upper-class [Macedonian] circles." Thus, heroin is also cheaper.


The cocaine coming through Albania at Kafasan is South American, smuggled either directly on container ships at Vlore or else on small vessels with the cooperation of the Southern Italy Calabrian mafia, Ndrangheta, which enjoys close connections with the Albanian mafia according to Italian experts.




Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis - July 17, 2006


Current Narco-trafficking Routes in Albania Linked with Former Prime Minister Fatos Nano


From GIS Stations Tirane and elsewhere in the Balkans. Albania has become an increasingly important country for the movement and management of the illicit international narcotics trade, establishing itself as a safe transit route between East and West because of its human resources and the involvement of Albanian political figures in the traffic. What has emerged has been a strong pattern of activities linking former Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano into the narco-trafficking networks operated from and through Albania.


Before 1997, strong drugs such as heroin or cocaine were not present in Albania in strategically-significant quantities because of the lack of financially serious partners and partners with political power. Former Minister of Interior Agron Musaraj (1993-1996), however, was a supporter of narco-trafficking groups, but his limited political power was insufficient to propel these groups into a prominent position. After Agron Musaraj left, the new Interior Minister of the Democratic Party, Halil Shamata, proposed new tough legislation against organized crime which was approved in the Parliament in Autumn 1996. The legislation included strong punishment for drug and weapon traffickers and very often fixed prison terms. The law was then criticized by human rights organization as well as segments of the Socialist Party, then in opposition. Several incriminated persons were arrested. Most of them were from Berat, Fier, Lushanja and Vlore, places where the Minister of Interior had power.


After the 1997 crisis and rebellion, many of those arrested were released from prison and the positions of their organizations were strengthened rapidly. Using the fact that they had been in prison during the time the Democratic Party was in power politically, these groups became the nucleus of the criminal gangs which were protected by the Socialist power which led the rebellion.


As years passed, many of these criminal groups were eliminated in internal fights and the drug trafficking was concentrated with the groups which had more political power.


In December 1997, Prime Minister Fatos Nano started consultations with the former Chairman of the Legislative Commission in Parliament, the Socialist, Fehmi Abdiu (who later become the head of the Supreme Court), to abrogate the anti-trafficking laws approved of 1996. Thus, on January 15, 1998, after a proposal by a group of Socialist members of Parliament, the law was repealed. The harsh punishments were for drug trafficking were discontinued and there was a legislative vacuum related to drug trafficking.


The closest people to Prime Minister Nano became the protectors of this trafficking and then used such income for private investments primarily in the construction and tourism sectors.


Below are listed some of the most important groups which control and monitor the drug trafficking and its transport to the West and which have direct ties with the political power of Prime Minister Fatos Nano.


1. Pirro Ymeri.


One key person is in the group of bodyguards of the Prime Minister. His name is Pirro Ymeri, and until 2001 he had his laboratory for the manufacturing of the drugs in the "Al Demi" neighborhood in Tirane. Now he has moved his laboratory in unknown location. He cooperates with Arjan Rugji, a former long-serving officer in the Guard of the Republic, nominated to his post through the support of Nehet Kulla, a well known political and criminal figure in Tirane, and a close friend of Fatos Nano.


After the nomination of Igli Toska as Minister of Interior, Arjan Rugji was nominated General Director of the Borders in the Ministry of Interior. Both run a drug trafficking group with its headquarters in the cafe/restaurant "Milosao" in Tirane. They have cooperated even with former Minister of Interior Luan Rama, but not with other important persons. Luan Rama himself has, as his primary liaison for drug trafficking, someone with whom he continues to preserve his connections and the trafficking route Turkey-Tirane-Italy.


2. Eduart Helmesi.


The second route is controlled by Eduart Helmesi, a.k.a. "Ed Baxhella". Eduart Hemlesi is the partner of the wife of Prime Minister Nano, Xhoana Nano, and was suspected in the 1992 murders in connection with the physical elimination of the group of Gazmend Muca. Helmesi is the director of the company "Xhoy Travel", which is the property of Xhoana Nano. This group undertakes narcotics distribution into Greece with the buses of Xhoy Travel, working with Greek collaborators. The same group has other collaborators who distribute in Greece and Italy. Thus, in Gler they have as primary partner Arjan Shanaj and Renato Cami. Renato Cami was allegedly behind several murders in Fier and was used by the Albanian Secret Services to intimidate opposition parities in the 2001 elections. Accidentally, a year ago, a large quantity of drugs was found in his house, but the leaders of the Ministry of Interior closed the case. Together with Eduart Helmesi works Artur Labi, in Durres. He is an old trafficker since the time the Democratic Party was in power before 1997.


3. Aquila Likuori Factory.


The third route is the Factory of Alcoholic Beverages "Aquila Likuori" on the highway between Tirane and Durres. This factory functions as a drug laboratory. After 2002 it was placed under the control of Fatos Nanos' people. To cover up those connection with the Prime Minister, this factory is given Government contracts for the supply of alcoholic beverages and other gifts for governmental ceremonies.


4. Agron Duka and Leonard Koka.


The fourth route is controlled by Agron Duka, Minister of Agriculture and Food, and Leonard Koka. This group handles the transportation of cocaine. Leonard Koka is the brother of Agron Duka's wife, and a close friend of Fatos Nano. He was the personal donor of Fatos Nano during the period in which he had resigned as prime minister in 1998-2001, and the person who introduced Nano to his second wife, Xhoana Nano, who at the time worked in Greece.


Under this group's control is the drug route Turkey-Durres-Kosovo-Germany as well as Turkey-Durres-Italy. This group is also known as "Shijak's Group". In this group participate Ilir Hoxha, Arben Shabani, the bothers Tusha (Shijak). Some of them used to be Democratic Party activists and became involved with this group after Agron Duka, the Socialist representative of the Shijak area (close to Durres) helped to get out of prison a person close to them in 2001, during the elections. Arben Shabani was arrested in 2001 in a random police stop and search because they found elements of a drug laboratory as well as drugs in his house, but he was later freed by under pressure from Agron Duka, as Minister of Agriculture and Food.


With this group works also the nephew of Bajram Ibro (Director General of Police) as well as trafficker named "Gezim" in Laprake, a peripheral neighborhood in Tirane. A second group within this group is that led by Lul (Lulezim) Berisha, Arjan Saliu, Klodain Saliu, Rudin Taullahu, Artur Begu, and Arben Talja. This group is led directly by Leonar Koka, the close friend of Fatos Nano, on the route Turkey-Tirane-Durres-Italy. With these two groups is connected one of the deputies of Agron Duka in the Ministry of Agriculture who is the Director of the Forestry Police and director of police in Durres. This group does the trafficking of cocaine in the route Durres-Belgjike.


5. Gjegj Luca and Jani Morava.


The fifth route network is the FYROM-Albania-Greece-outside route and the Tirane-Korce-Selanik inside route. This route is controlled by Gjegj Luca and Jani Morava, who have a transportation business in Pogradec. Gjergj Luca is the owner of several big casinos in Tirane, Shkoder, and Montenegro. Members of this group are Roland Ziu (owner of "Espanja"), Alfred Ziu and Fatos Zjarri, transporter.


6. Gjergj Luca, Artur Gjini and Arjan Andoni.


The sixth route is Montenegro-Tirane-Italy (cocaine) and Tirane-Shoder, and is controlled by Gjergj Luca, Artur Gjini and Arjan Andoni. Andoni was arrested in 2005 in a clear attempt by Fatos Nano to place Gjergj Luca under his complete control. After everything was achieved, his freedom was being arranged. A close collaborator of this group is Pellumnb Gjoka ,in Shkoder; Gjoka is the middle man with the Montenegrins and Besim Tulina and Adem Ahmeti. Fatos Nano has established contacts with Gjergj Luca, about a year and a half ago about this matter.


7. The Group of Edmond Pustina.


The group of Edmond Pustina and "Tota" in the Fortuzi street (approximately 45 year old). Edmond Pustina is the first cousin of Nano's brother in law, Fatos Pustina, and was convicted seven years ago on narcotics-related charges. Currently he works in Albanian Customs. In this group also participate Ilir Arbana (officer in the Customs police) and Ardian Resuli, former police chief in Saranda and Durres who currently invests his profits in construction. They keep relations with Gramoz Ruci, head of the parliamentary group of the socialist party and Ilir Gjoni, former Minister of Interior. The group works with collaborators in the Albanian Secret Services.


8. Igli Toska in the route FYROM-Albania.


A person close to Igli Toska controls the drug route Macedonia-Albania. He was accidentally arrested several months ago (early 2006) with 30 kg of heroin and later the news transformed as if he was caught with only 30g of heroin. The trafficker is the son of Leonidha Taoksa, Direktor of the Tirane Municipality. (Igli) Toska did not make any comments about the accusations. He is trying to substitute the group previously led by former Minister Luan Rama through the group of Yamer Lala.


9. Majkos Elidon


The personal bodyguard of former Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Pandeli Majko, called "Majkos Elidon", controls narcotics transportation from Bulgaria trough Albania. He does the transportation with the help of Arjan Rugji, the director of the Border Police in the Ministry of Interior and also collaborates with Fatmir Meto, a former police chief arrested after the murder of opposition member of parliament Azem Hajdari. The control of these transportation routes is done through Arjan Rugji and on some occasions from the border entry pointed called "Three Bridges" where chief of police is "Bilali" a former bodyguard of Fatos Nano.


These the most important groups which deal with drug trafficking in Albania and use for this purpose the political power and the connections with persons close to former Prime Minister Fatos Nano who resigned on September 1, 2005, his leadership of the Socialist Party of Albania, and from the post of Prime Minister. The accuracy of these date has been verified, corroborated by at least three source and has had the contribution of segments of the Albanian Secret Service, outside the control of former Prime Minister Nano.




Fatos Thanas Nano (born September 16, 1952) is a Member of the Albanian Parliament, representing Sarande constituency. He was Prime Minister of Albania during several periods and leader of the Socialist Party of Albania. Nano has a degree in political economy as well as a PhD in economics from the University of Tirane.


Nano was born in Tirane, and he became a communist and later socialist leader. He was nominated for the post of Prime Minister by the then President Ramiz Alia in 1991, but was forced to resign after popular protests and strikes.


He was imprisoned in 1993 for corruption, but was pardoned in 1997 after his party had come to power. In 1997, following the collapse of several pyramid schemes, and the ensuing civil unrest that bordered on civil war, Nano's nemesis, then-President Sali Berisha was forced to resign. That same year, following general elections, Nano was appointed Prime Minister by President Rexhep Meidani, only to resign again in 1998 after the protests that followed the assassination of an opposition leader, Azem Hajdari.


Nano became Prime Minister for the third time on July 25, 2002, appointed by President Alfred Moisiu. Two large protests in February 2004 with crowds of up to 20,000 demanded that Nano step down again for failing to properly manage the growth of the Albanian economy. He is often jokingly referred to as the "Yo-Yo Prime Minister of Albania" because of his many times in office.


On July 3, 2005, the Socialist Party lost its majority in Parliament. As a result, Nano was unable to form the new government. The Democratic Party of Albania gained the majority enabling Nano's long time opponent Sali Berisha to head the new Government. On September 1, 2005, Nano resigned his leadership of the Socialist Party of Albania, and from the post of Prime Minister.