Albania: The State and Organized Crime – By Tsai Mali

Armando Prenga with MP Pjerin Ndreu and Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri in Parliament
Armando Prenga with MP Pjerin Ndreu and Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri in Parliament

An Italian-Albanian criminal organization devoted to narcotics from Albania dismantled in recent days in Catania, Italy ended up shaking Albanian politics quite heavily.

A controversial story of international trafficking, collaboration between authorities and criminal groups and uncomfortable relatives is shaking in these days the government of Socialist Premier Edi Rama, who won a second term in September. Four years of investigations by the Italian authorities were finalized on October 17th with a tenure of arrest against eleven people, including the brothers Moisi and Florian Habilaj, known to the Albanian public opinion since 2015, when a former agent of the Fier antidrug office, Dritan Zagani, denounced the link – between blood and business – with then Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.


According to the former police officer, Habilaj’s brothers had long been involved in narcotics traffic with Italy and moved on board a car owned by the minister, who guaranteed Albania’s inactivity in Albania. Tahiri had admitted on that occasion that he had sold the vehicle to his cousins, never taking ownership of the property, and having used it later on for a private trip abroad.

Agent Zagani, at that time under investigation for abuse of office, sought and obtained political asylum in Switzerland. While Saimir Tahiri, now deputy and Coordinator of the Socialist Party, remained head of the Interior Ministry until March 2017, before being suddenly dismissed with a bad government reshuffle in which three other socialist ministers also ended up spending it. In light of the recent revelations obtained by the Italian authorities, the Albanian prosecutor now asks for the arrest on charges of narcotics trafficking and corruption.

Tahiri’s involvement

As part of the Guardia di Finanza investigation into an international organization that over the years has managed to transport over 3,500 kg of marijuana from Albania to Italy, with a turnover of over 20 million euros, the Albanian prosecutor’s office he also got a massive file with interceptions of telephone calls and conversations among band members, from which there was a shadow of Saimir Tahiri’s involvement in the interception at the helm of the Interior Ministry.

In a December 2013 talk, a few months after the Albanian political elections, the accused Moisi Habilaj and Sabaudin Çelaj wondered what more than their newly appointed minister was. For Çelaj there would be “just the name”, meaning the reputation and the governmental mandate, certainly not the money, a condition obviously considered essential for the political career. According to Habilaj, however, Tirana’s cousin “made at least 5 million euros in a month,” but his partner resizes the importance of the figure for the pockets of the minister, stressing that for an election campaign to the Albanian “not enough is 20 millions”.

On another occasion, the suspects are talking about a sum of 30,000 euros, part of the proceeds of one of the narcotics sections, which would cost Saimir, and then two bracelets worth a few thousand euros for his wife and Saimir’s mother.

In some cases the reference is obvious, while on other occasions it is only the name, but according to Italian investigators Saimir quoted by the suspects would be the former minister

The political consequences

“Two criminals, my cousins of the tenth grade, did not hesitate to make my name. Criminals who make the name of a politician to boast, and in any case for their own interests, there are so many, but I intend to ask the prosecution to investigate , without resorting to the immunity of a deputy, “Tahiri said in a press conference a few hours after the eavesdropping. “I’m going to end up in the remote cell of the jail and stay there until clear,” she said cautiously on television tonight, sure that the next day the prosecutor would have the go-ahead for the arrest. In the general and embarrassed silence of the Socialists, the only one to take the floor was Prime Minister Edi Rama, who immediately took the distances and called “revolting and shocking” the conversations of the suspects. “We want the truth as soon as possible,” he briefly commented on the Social Premier, while the leading man of his former government suddenly became a “twisted twig” within the big socialist family. In less than twenty-four hours, however, the wind has changed.

Under house and in front of Parliament, Tahiri did not find the police officers but a host of supporters to encourage him to do justice and insult and grumble the “cretin” journalist who dared to ask him a question about his involvement in the affair. In the meantime, in the debate on whether or not parliamentary immunity is being granted, the Socialist MPs have clashed around the colleague, took a day to evaluate the documentation and then demanded by the magistrates – simulating an unlikely court session – indisputable evidence of the culprit of the colleague . The next day, the Council of Delegates – a body responsible for the analysis of the granting of immunity – came out with two reports: one of the opposition that validated the arrest and one of the majority that allowed only investigations, but with the deputy on the loose. It is easy to predict who will get the majority in the classroom in the next few days. Tahiri’s legal problems brought together all opposition parties around the same table who, following the appeal of the Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, the main training of the Albanian center-forward, agreed to coordinate their interventions and find themselves united in the struggle for power a criminal represented primarily by Prime Minister Edi Rama. This new common front of the opposition immediately called for Rama’s resignation as “chief responsible for the links to crime with the government dome and representing the interests of an oligarchic and corrupt system.”

That the opposition would turn the story into a political battle was foreseeable, but all those present at that table, from Basha to Mediu, from Kryemadhi to Kokedhima, as well as the absent, Berisha and Meta, their own problems with justice they have always been skinned or archived due to political protections, bureaucracy, and prescription. They are, like Tahiri and Rama, who today denounce, an emblem of the failure of a judicial and political system that has never broken its “code of silence”, that inseparable complicity between those who rise and fall from power.

In the absolute impunity that has accompanied Albania for landings, crisis and conflicts of yesterday, as well as the miracle, boom and opportunities of today’s narrative, Saimir Tahiri has only risked, even though only twenty-four hours, to be the first exception.


The capitulation of a state

In addition to the “political chapter”, in the eavesdropping of Italian authorities, published entirely in these days in the press, there is the daily life of the members of a criminal organization for the Albanian part led by the Habilaj brothers. easily earned and immediately squandered, the scuffle for the cargoes intercepted by the Italian authorities and the relief of escaping each and every time the arrest, the disappointment for Hugo Boss socks paid 320 euros and the satisfaction for bracelets studded with diamonds to give to mom, with a lot of security in case of theft.

From these cards, however, two countries emerge as the antipodes of the same sea where, in Porto Palermo, the favorite place for launching cannabis hulls, the 80 km separating them suddenly become an abyss. On one side of the sea – the Italian one – there is the obsession of being under observation, poverty, there is the police that its suspects follow them, checks them, records their conversations and intercepts shipments. On the other hand, there is freedom, luxury, the police who “look and go”, harmless and harmless.

In Albania, the band of Habilaj has its own police force in the whole area of Valona, “you saw the van that is past, all of us, but some traitor can happen, know who comes and who goes”; he has a “great head” in Tirana with whom you meet for yourself, and that is not the same cousin socialist; but also a “bird” in the radar room of Durres, “from there they see everything, including fish,” which gives them directions on the route and resumes them if, as it once happened, the boat entered error in Greek territorial waters where instead the protection fails.

In the interception of the Italian authorities there may not be enough evidence to show that Saimir Tahiri was actually involved in the affair, although it certainly would be enough to end his political career, but there is the parable of the activity of a criminal organization active since 1998 evidently tied to all the governments of Tirana that have since followed. There is, above all, the parable of a country where anti-corruption, corruption and collusion of organized crime are still today. In those 400 pages of interceptions there are, among the lines, the capitulation of the Albanian state.


Source: Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso

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