Sharing specialised technology and other co-operation results in more drug arrests, extradition of traffickers and seizure of criminals' assets.
By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 23/04/13
Albanian police destroy a cannabis field in the north of the country. [AFP]
International watchdog agencies have long considered Albania a major country for the production of narcotics and their transit into Western Europe, but Albania's increased co-operation with the EU law enforcement agencies is showing results, officials said.
A joint operation with EU police in six countries, dubbed Sotto-Tracia, resulted in the arrest of 34 drug traffickers on April 10th in Albania.
"This is one of the rare cases [where] we co-ordinated our work within minutes to collaborate with Italian prosecutors and EUROJUST," Eugen Beci, head of the Albania Prosecutor's Office for Heavy Offenses, told SETimes.
EUROJUST, the EU agency dealing with judicial collaboration in criminal cases, said the Florence, Italy, district anti-mafia prosecution office initiated Sotto-Tracia in 2010.
"The operation was one of the biggest we have ever planned with international collaboration. The intensified contacts with our EU partners are yielding joint success and the figures are growing. All arrestees ... were caught to be extradited," Beci said.
Increased anti-narcotic co-operation efforts resulted in the Albanian police confiscating 21 tonnes of heavy drugs and marijuana last year, identifying 59 criminal drug groups and arresting and extraditing 78 traffickers.
"All the drug activity took place in EU countries, mainly cocaine transported from the Asian countries to Central Europe," Edmond Rizaj, head of the Anti Narcotics Office in the State Police, told SETimes.
Albania has adopted the Italian model of anti-mafia law, calling for authorities to confiscate assets acquired through organised crime, and is now aggressively putting it into practice.
"In collaboration with the attorney general, we will confiscate the assets of the detained. We are closely collaborating with neighbouring countries," Rizaj said.
Albanian and Italian police also signed a co-operation agreement to fight the narcotics trade, which enabled the transfer of technology to Albania to conduct police operations with greater efficiency.
Albanian authorities can monitor the entire country via two Italian police airplanes that specialise in identifying drug fields. As a result, the Albanian police identified 148 drug plantations and 142 offenders, and arrested 95 of them.
Officials said they are also sending a signal to the 1.5 million Albanian diaspora in Europe not to be misled by organised crime and to integrate in the countries where they now live.
About 3,500 Albanians are serving time in Italian prisons.
"In recent years, Albanian police have collaborated with police organisations in EU countries and in the region through bilateral or regional agreements. But the police bureaucracies are very slow compared to the impressive and efficient operation of criminal groups," Artan Hoxha told SETimes.
"For as long as the police fail to take away dirty money and crime assets, it will be difficult for the authorities to control and dominate organised crime," Hoxha said.
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