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Feature Articles


July 2006
Albanian Criminality

By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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     "Another tragedy of illegal migrants in the canale d’Otranto [Otranto Channel] in the Adriatic Sea. A rubber dingy with 34 persons aboard—Albanians and Kosovars—that was sailing from the Italian coast at the heel of Italy collided with a police craft patrolling those waters. Five dead, 18 injured, four of whom enough to be hospitalized, eleven unharmed. Among the victims, a mother and her two babies, while the father was uninjured. The three Albanian smugglers on board who were transporting the clandestines were taken into custody. According to first reports of the Guardia di Finanza, the incident—similar to the ramming of two years ago that caused the deaths of almost 90 persons—took place in the dark at about 5 o’clock this morning. The strong impact with the police boat occurred 30 miles from the coast, in international waters." (La Repubblica, 2 May 1999)

     "It is one of the most significant operations executed in Albania against local criminals, by the carabinieri of the Ros, called "Operation Harem," in collaboration with the Albanian anti-mafia. Eighty arrest warrants were served against members of a criminal organization composed of Albanians and Italians involved in a trafficking of immigrants and prostitutes into Italy, and arms and drugs from Albania. The narcotics were to be marketed in the provinces of Cosenza, Crotone and Messina, while the arms were to increment the arsenals of the ‘Ndrangheta. Hundreds of women, of many nationalities, were to be forced into prostitution in Calabria and other Italian regions under the control of Albanians with the consent of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta. In exchange, the Italians would receive the drugs and arms. Fifty of the arrestees were Albanians, the other thirty from Calabria and Puglia. Albanians are known for their trafficking throughout Europe, with bases in Germany. The ‘Ndrangheta affiliates, co-involved in the operation, belong to the Cornigliano Calabro and Cassano allo Ionio clans, in the province of Cosenza." (La Repubblica, 13 December 2005)

     The Republic of Albania is located in the Balkan peninsula of Southern Europe. A small nation, Albania has a population of three million in 10,362 square miles. It is on the Adriatic Sea and faces the Italian region of Puglia at the heel of Italy. At the narrowest point of the Adriatic, the canale d’Otranto, Albania is only 45 miles from the Italian coast. This close proximity has become a serious burden for Italy. Albania has the characteristics of a typical impoverished, underdeveloped and politically unstable nation. Albania continues to recover from the ravages of the former communist regime and the fierce political struggle that resulted from the power vacuum. The erosion of the system of social security created by the communists has produced opportunities for graft, rampant corruption and a virulent criminality.

     With 40 percent of the population under 25 years of age, Albania is demographically the youngest nation in Europe. One-third of the inhabitants live at the edges of desperation, earning the equivalent of two dollars a day. The rate of unemployment is without equal in Europe, forcing many youth to emigrate at the first opportunity. According to the World Organization for Migration, 30,000 female migrants have been ensnared in the burgeoning European sex market in their quest of livable wages.

     A few statistics are noteworthy. Only 18 percent of Albanians have uninterrupted electricity and only one in six households has running water. There is an almost total lack of roads and few infrastructures worthy of the name. Only 39 percent of the roads are paved. The rates of infant mortality and malnutrition rival that of the world’s poorest countries. There is little knowledge of the mortal dangers of contacting HIV/AIDS. Drug addicts risk infection by the free sharing of needles; 80 percent engage in unprotected sex.

     Italy has borne the brunt of Albanians fleeing their land for greener pastures and the hope of employment at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The Albanians, along with the Moroccans, represent the largest immigration population in Italy. While legal residents are more than 150 thousand, it is clear that those without papers far exceed that number.

     Italy experienced the first large influx of Albanians in 1991, after the fall of Henver Hoxha’s dictatorship. The second began in 1997, when financial scandals and political instability drove the country to the edge of civil war and economic collapse. The Kosovo conflict, in 1999, precipitated the third wave of out-migration. Despite the Italian government’s determination to stem the tide of illegal migrants sailing out of the port of Valona in a variety of vessels, some constructed in Albania by Italian criminals for that purpose, in desperation to reach what they consider the "Promised Land" has not abated. Italy’s ability (and willingness) to accommodate the impoverished is limited, not to mention the host of social problems that inevitably accompanies such an inflow.

     The Italian stereotypes of Albanians as a people are decidedly negative. They are readily observable on the streets by their mannerisms, shorter stature, and dress. They strain welfare budgets and fill the courts. They are immigrati cattivi, evil and criminal—they are "the wretched refuse of [their] teeming shore."

     Albanians account for much of the development of prostitution rings and narcotics trafficking. Their criminals collude with the Italian mafia clans and join the ranks of the street thugs who do the bidding of their bosses. The arrest statistics of the Albanians in Italy have revealed a steady yearly increase. In 1991, 2,425 were arrested; by 2000, 22,975. Their collaboration with their principle Italian partner, La sacra corona unita of Puglia, which is known to liaison with the powerful ‘Ndrangheta, has become increasingly worrisome to authorities on both sides of the Adriatic.

     Since Albania became the "Sick Man" of Europe, the European Union has been working diligently to aid its troubled partner. "Albania," the EU stated, "must change the negative image with which it has been unfortunately identified. That image is due to the grave damage produced by corruption in high places and organized crime. The ‘Barons of Crime’ are destroying the country."

     The Albanian criminal gangs constitute one of the highest crime generating elements at the international level. They combine a rigid internal discipline and modern innovative elements, demonstrating flexibility and a talent for entrepreneurship.

     Albania has had a long history of blood feuds and various forms of criminality. The country is a natural crossroads of transnational criminal traffic from the East into Western Europe. This strategic location enhances the power and growth of the better organized Albanian clans and spreads their influence well beyond the nation’s borders. Like other mafias, Albanian organized crime is a multi-commodity business and the crime groups invest the proceeds from their activities in new and illegal enterprises.

     As a result, what was at one time a provincial criminal mindset is now demonstrating international business acumen, amassing a tidy sum from trafficking in cigarettes, drugs, stolen cars, and trade in humans. The most serious issue and one that is anathema to civilized people is forced prostitution in the form of enslavement, presently a very lucrative enterprise because of the large numbers of women in underdeveloped countries with limited means who are searching out a brighter future.

     Albanian young women (and others) are lured by promises of a better life abroad. They are recruited and accompanied by older women who play on their dreams for steady, even glamorous, employment. Once at their destinations, they are sold to the highest bidder. "Today, a person can be kidnapped in Bosnia or Slovenia, transferred via Albania and Italy to be held as in slavery and exploited." (Italian senator Alberto Maritati, 2002)

     The criminals that operate the brothel/street walker/bar girl prostitution market are able to hold the women in virtual bondage. They live existences to the pleasure of their owners and may be sold several times. They are on arrival deprived of their passports, stripped of their personal freedoms, often violated, and kept under control by intimidation, drugs, and violence. That each earns for their masters an average 500 euros a day is a current official estimate. Their hopes on emigrating of being able to remit back to their needy families a portion of their earnings (a major factor that motivated their uprooting) are sadly dashed.

     During the 2006 World Cup, the German government built small brothels on the stadium grounds to accommodate "sex workers" for the fans. Few questions were asked regarding by what method the members of the "oldest profession" were obtained and from where.

"     Prostitution in London, England, is now largely run by immigrants from the Balkans. The girls are captured or purchased when too young to resist. Attempts to escape are severely punished by beating or torture, and communication with the outside world is extremely forbidden. Witnesses are reluctant to come forward to accuse those members of the Albanian mafia who dominate the London scene; the girls themselves—often monoglot [one language] captives from the mountain villages—risk death should they make contact with the police. The customers are happy with a deal that offers youthful flesh at rock-bottom prices. And attempts to deport illegal immigrants are now more or less futile, with ‘human rights’ lawyers specializing in offering Her Majesty’s protection to Her Majesty’s enemies." (Roger Scruton, National Review, 19 June 2006)

     Albanian criminality is a mixture of mafia-type organizations and a variety of more or less common delinquency, that is, engaging in or abetting crimes of opportunity.

     The mafia-type groups aim at maximizing power and profit by means of multiple ventures through the control of territory, monopolizing trafficking routes and the systematic use of threats and violence to intimidate and silence people. They seek to dominate economic activity, such as infiltrating public services, obstructing the freedom to exercise one’s franchise and the rigging of elections. The bonds of association are strong, cemented by working codes of honor and omertà.

     By contrast, the criminal gangs, which have no fixed territory or monopoly on criminal activity, respond to the interests of the mafia clans. They are essentially predatory, ready to act in-country or internationally through precise operative and collusive connections. Strong-arming is their main methodology.

     Criminal aggregations can be understood as transient and structureless, opportunistic by design, specializing in the grunt work of the criminal underworld (e.g., ferrying the undocumented across the Adriatic, forgers, motorboat drivers, and more as the demand permits).

      The local mafias are found in the Albanian lowlands, in the coastal cities and the capital, Tirana. They have logistic cells in Europe and South America, where they liaison with Colombian cocaine traffickers, and in cities like New York, where they have taken their place along with other ethnic mobs. The Hasani and Shabani mafias have representatives in Italy as part of the Italian-Albanian narco-traffic, which delivers heroin from Turkey. Seventy to eighty percent of all heroin for Western Europe is transported via the Balkan route.

     The Albanian economy is dependent on illegal activity. Fifty percent of its GDP is generated through criminality. The illicit profits are recycled through the construction industry. Bribes are the norm in business transactions. Such is the scope of the problem, and its visibility, that it should come as no surprise that 60 percent of the population ranks corruption as the most severe societal problem.

     "The Albanian situation is characterized by a profound socio-economic and political instability. The institutional attempts to establish an innovatory new image adhering to modern democratic standards have favored the evolution of organized crime and the pervasive migration of mafia-like criminal structures throughout Western Europe. The strategic position of Albania with regard to the illegal migration flow from the Southern Balkans, heavily destabilized by the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia and the yet unresolved claims of the fragmented ethnic groups, still primed with ominous tensions, has rendered the country a crossroads for transnational traffic, conferring inexhaustible new ‘key’ functions on the better organized Albanian groups." ("The Growing Albanian Mafia," Rivista Italiana di Intelligence, N.4/2005)


 


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