Albania: Authorities Rocked by Drugs Scandal

Senior officials are implicated in the narcotics trade just as the authorities pledge to get tough on the scourge.

Albania: Authorities Rocked by Drugs Scandal

Senior officials are implicated in the narcotics trade just as the authorities pledge to get tough on the scourge.

Albania has suffered a huge embarrassment in its fight against drugs with the arrest this month of two high-ranking officials in charge of combating Albania's serious heroin trafficking problem.

Lieutenant-colonel Shamet Bejko, head of port police in Durres, west of the capital Tirana, and Major Alush Muho, the harbour's chief controller, were appointed just three months ago.

Investigations have revealed that at the time they were involved in a narcotics operation, recently broken up by police who managed to seize 35 kg of heroin.

Two other officials, both in charge of permits for ships leaving Durres, were also arrested, one of them a close relative of a senior Albanian politician.

This and the seizure of 20 kg of heroin in an official vehicle with fake police plates last month mean that officials have been involved in around ninety per cent of heroin smuggled this year.

And now there is speculation as to just how far the rot lies, with fingers being pointed at officials high up in government circles. This is why, some commentators are saying, Albania remains the main conduit for transporting hard drugs into Western Europe, despite police efforts to put more anti-narcotics units into action.

The arrests of the Durres officials clearly highlights the connection between the traffickers and the Albanian political establishment. "The involvement of police structures in this illegal traffic is obvious - the Durres case proves it," said Josif Shtembari, head of the public order ministry's internal investigation team created some months ago.

Collusion between politicians and criminals is bad enough but growing signs that some police are themselves involved in the narcotics racket means that honest officers have an uphill struggle.

Shtembari declined to estimate the extent of police involvement with organised crime, but said, "Shamet, for example, was lieutenant colonel. Time will show how deep the Mafia connection goes".

Another public order ministry official, who declined to be named, said, "Without police assistance, this illegal traffic, in drugs, cars or other kinds, could not be committed."

In February, 20 kg of heroin were found in a police car registered with false number plates at the near the border with Kosovo. One of those arrested at the scene was the driver of a senior official in charge of roads.

Other factors compound police problems. Many of the special units set up to deal with the narcotics mafia are poorly equipped; the judiciary release many drug crime suspects allegedly "for lack of proof"; and new trafficking routes through the country are always emerging. This all means that the police are always struggling to catch up with the criminals.

Nontheless, Bilbil Mema, head of the country's police force, said his men were confident that their anti-drug efforts this year would remove Albania from the international list of countries supplying narcotics and acting as transit routes for them. "The fight against traffic of any kind is the priority this year," he said.

According to the public order ministry, 51 kg of heroin, 4 kg of cocaine and seven tons of processed cannabis were seized in 2000, while around 250,000 cannabis sativa plants were destroyed. This year the police have seized 60 kg of heroin.

Zylyftar Bregu is editor at the Albanian Gazeta Shqiptare newspaper.

Albania, Kosovo
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