ORGANIZED CRIME - MAFIA

TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME
A Frank Cass Journal

Published by Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. (London) and The Ridgway Center for International Security Studies

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (www.pitt.edu/~rcss/ridgway.html)
Volume 2, Spring 1996, Number 1, pp. 1-20
ISSN 1357-7387

MEN OF PURPOSE: THE GROWTH OF ALBANIAN CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

by GUS XHUDO

Introduction

Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, a variety of groups and factions has used the conflict in the region as a means to benefit from illicit activity. Their criminal operations have only recently been discovered by law enforcement authorities and identified as a possible threat. Since late 1989 to 1990, the demise of communism in the region, coupled with the disintegration of Yugoslavia into its constituent parts has been accompanied by the rise of criminal activity in the Balkans. Of all the regions criminal elements, however, none has done as well as the Albanians. Once scattered and disorganised, and working for others, the Albanians have, in the past five to ten years, moved into independent operations, established a vast network of mules and trouble-shooters throughout Western Europe, coordinated activity with supportive emigre communities, and managed to consolidate their operations on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, they appear to be growing and expanding their operations at an alarming rate. Authorities both in Europe and the United States are at a loss as to the nature and extent of these groups and have succeeded in making only minor arrests. Highly secretive and ruthless, the Albanians, in some respects, mirror the Sicilian Mafia of years past, with its highly intricate code of honour based upon a patriarchal system of respect.1 According to law enforcement authorities, their activities to date includes drugs and refugee smuggling, arms trafficking, contract killing, kidnapping, false visa forgery, and burglary.2

Background

The evidence suggests four main factors which explain why Albanian Criminal Organizations have managed to rise so quickly and with such success. First, following extensive undercover operations against the Italian Mafia in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI], by the end of 1986 had managed to uncover the Pizza Connection. Involving the Sicilian Mafia's underground delivery system for heroin trafficking, the case suggested collusion by some of America's most reputed crime families, including the Gambinos, as well as Paul Castellano, and the Piancone brothers of Carato Bari, Sicily.3 While the case did little in terms halting the Mafia's overall heroin business, it did disrupt a portion of their drug trade, especially in the Tri-State [New York, New Jersey, Connecticut] area. More importantly, the disruption and breakdown of the Mafia's activities in the area, provided the opportunity for other `ethnic

based crime groups' to move in and pick up the slack.4 This is where the Albanians saw their chance to break out of the low level criminal activities they had been involved in and operate independently. Up to that point, their activities had not been organised and were dominated by small scale robberies, isolated and concentrated, primarily in New York's five boroughs. Those few Albanians who were involved with organised criminal groups often found themselves working for the Italians, either as mules, couriers, or even assassins. This was especially true of Albanians employed by the Gambino, Lucchese and Genovese crime families. These families were quick to find recruits among the Albanian youth, particularly those located in the urban areas along the north-east coast of the United States. In cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, Albanians were often concentrated in areas adjoining predominant Italian neighbourhoods. As one Albanian described it: "The Italians, especially the `old world Italians', are a lot like us. They have similar views about family, honour, respect. They pay well and reward loyalty. It wasn't difficult to find a lot of Albanians who wanted to work for them."5 A not too well known consequence of the Pizza Connection Case, however, was that following the investigation and break-up of the pizzerias in New York many of them were sold to ethnic Albanians who continue to run them as pizzerias. Others have been converted to social clubs and cafes where organised elements meet to discuss operations. This is especially true in the Fordham section of the Bronx in New York (as it is in the Kosovor Albanian cafes in Brussels and Paris).

A second factor was, Albanians, particularly Kosovars, began to develop the sense of collective identity required for these groups to mobilise their activities. This occurred at roughly the same time the Pizza Connection case was being uncovered. In the former Yugoslav province of Kosovo, the predominant ethnic Albanian population witnessed, firsthand the rise of Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic.6 Beginning in 1987, Milosevic used a virulent anti-Albanian campaign to repress the ethnic Albanian population in an effort to gain Serb support for his rise to the top of Serbia's political scene. By 1989, he had succeeded in removing the ethnic Albanian politicians from the Kosovo Parliament and replacing them with men loyal to him. By the end of that year, Kosovo's `autonomous province' status had been removed. In effect Kosovo was placed under martial law and ruled from Belgrade. Realising that Albanians would respond with violence, Milosevic increased the number of police precincts in Kosovo by sixty-three percent and police units by fifty-eight percent.7 Despite these measures, Kosovars took advantage of the situation by expanding the operations of an already existing black market. The repression continued, with arbitrary arrests, CSCE monitored expulsions by Serb authorities, and the firing and dismissal of thousands of ethnic Albanian policemen, teachers, engineers and assorted labourers, along with incidents of reported torture and beatings, events which only served to radicalise the Kosovars.8 While many mobilised and threw their support behind Ibrahim Rugova and his moderate Democratic League of Kosova [LDK], a radical right organised into a more extremist group. Levizje Komb_tar p_r _lirimin _ Kosov_s [The National Liberation Movement for Kosova, LKCK]. The LKCK has repeatedly called for armed uprising against Serb authorities. An extremely clandestine organisation, it is believed that the group uses illicit activity, especially drug trafficking, to fund its nationalist agenda and coordinates its actions with the increasing number of Kosovar emigres located in Switzerland, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Stockholm.9 As the Serb crackdown of Kosovo continued, the black market and organised criminal activity flourished. The relaxation of border controls by Albania during the 1990-1991 period resulted in many of these criminal elements crossing the border and taking their scams and activities with them. As Albania continued to democratize, many stayed on and, eventually, under the guise of political refugees, were permitted to obtain travel visas which they made use of, travelling to capitals in Western Europe. Recognising the opportunity before them, these Kosovars coordinated their actions with emigres, the latter providing them with working capital, that they used to buy the hundreds of state-run businesses being sold cheap. It is several of these purchases that are now being used by organised crime as front companies for storage of merchandise, and as money laundering facilities.10 Taking advantage of the Albanian citizenry with phoney land deals and other scams, coupled with the endless opportunities created by the demise of communism, Kosovars were able to rake in hard currency by the millions in Albania. With a strong emigre support structure throughout Western Europe, money and deals were transacted with increasing frequency.

Third, as previously mentioned, the process of democratisation, which swept throughout Eastern Europe in 1989-1990 began a bit later in Albania. Yet, like its neighbours to the East, Albania's transformation during the 1990-1992 period was not without its difficulties. Albanian leader Ramiz

Alia hoped that easing some state controls would stem the overwhelming tide of democracy. Instead, an unfortunate by-product of this period became the increasing levels of crime. The arrival of the Berisha government in March, 1992 did little to allay the crime spree as reports of gangs roaming the streets increased.11 But perhaps most alarming was that the gangs involved in the growing crime spree were organising themselves. As early as the Bufi Administration [June, 1991]; "extortion, prostitution, drug-running, indeed, crime per se [were] the order of the day."12 Albania's efforts at democracy, and getting basic foodstuffs to its populace preoccupied the government. By December 1991, the arrival of a caretaker administration led by Vilson Ahmeti had little choice but to address the crime situation which by now threatened to destabilize the entire country.

Indeed, the months January and February, 1992 were witness to widespread crime, organised and violent, which endangered Albania to the point of near total chaos and anarchy. Crime had reached such proportions that people did not venture outside after dusk. The situation had even the police frightened and risked paralysing the whole nation.13 The Ahmeti Administration introduced a bill into Parliament to alleviate crime by imposing stiffer penalties on offenders and putting more police on the streets.14 This, however, would not solve the problems as many Albanians understood that the crime sweeping the nation was not the random act of individuals, but coordinated efforts of urban Mafia group which sprang up during the 1990-1992 period. Liberalisation had brought with it corruption and profiteering by ruthless men who were diverting much needed aid deliveries, leaving the police with little they could do. Moreover, in all likelihood, some within the ranks of the police also saw the opportunity to profit from the widespread chaos. The Chief of the Tirana police admitted as such claiming that many Albanians lacked respect for the law since, to them, they represented the tools of repression during the old regime.15 It has been these men who continue to profit, and now have the means to travel in and out of Albania with relative ease. Establishing themselves as legitimate businessmen, they easily obtain travel visas from the Albanian government. Days later, they are often seen frequenting the Albanian social clubs of Paris, Brussels, and New York, where further deals are negotiated.16

Fourth, with the outbreak of civil war in Yugoslavia, approximately sixty percent of Western Europe's heroin trade was disrupted. From Central Asia and through the Middle East, this drug trade had long used Yugoslavia as a conduit for the rest of Europe for years. Realising that they now required an alternate route, organised Albanians quickly offered their services to drug manufacturers in Turkey and the Middle East. Moreover, with warfare next door, the opportunity for large scale arms trading, goods and refugee smuggling also presented itself.17 Using the overland route, drugs and other goods usually travel from Turkey to Greece and then to Macedonia. Albanians, often with second-hand Chinese trucks purchased for between 500 and 2500 Deutschmarks from the government then transport the material through Elbasan to the Albanian ports of Vlor_, Durr_s and Sarande.18. From there, privateers with small craft, capable of avoiding detection travel either north towards the Dalmatian coast or across to Italy. This type of trade and activity has increased since 1992 and estimates suggest that the Albanians now control seventy percent of all illegal heroin trade bound for Germany and Switzerland.19 Once there, the high concentration of ethnic Albanian communities offers the drug traffickers perfect cover, and like the Sicilians before them, the chance to hide and launder their winnings. That contraband which makes its way to Italy does so with the assistance and blessing of the Sicilian Mafia, particularly the Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia,20 taking a percentage of the profits. Efforts to halt the drug traffic have been weak and ineffective. Some arrests were made, yet they did little to the overall operation. For example, by February, 1995, Albanian police seized a three kilograms of heroin worth an estimated $500,000 [US].21 According to authorities, this was part of a much larger shipment most likely bound for Italy. The larger shipment, however, was never seized, nor was any evidence obtained as to its whereabouts.

It has been these four factors which combined to add force to the organised Albanian crime syndicates. Events have provided them the chance to break out on their own, rather than continuing to work for others as they had done throughout the latter half of the 1980s.. Their numbers continue to increase and they pose a threat to law enforcement officials throughout Europe and the United States.

Recruitment

Entry into these organisations is methodical and not left up to chance. The Albanian social hierarchy is a system which traces its origins to the days prior to the Ottoman arrival. Encoded into an order, it became known as the Canun of Lek Dukagjeni. This code was religiously followed in the north of the country, where a clan system predominated life.22 Every aspect of one's social relations are embodied in the Canun. Based upon respect, family and loyalty, the code has been used by the criminal groups as a means to ensure allegiance. The extended family is given high priority and an attack upon one of its members constitutes a hakmarr_je, or blood feud, an attack upon the entire family or organisation. The communist regime from the end of the Second World War up to 1991 managed to keep a lid on this tradition. However, with democracy, age old vendettas have resurfaced and drug and arms related blood attacks, especially in the north, have increased exponentially.23 Many of the gangs, especially those in the

Balkans, will not admit members who are not ethnic Albanians. Many also recruit family members and/or close friends so as to prevent infiltration. The ethnic requirement, though, is the highest priority. Similar to La Cosa Nostra, members' entry obligates possible recruits to swear an oath of allegiance and secrecy, an omerta, or besa. [literally, promise or word of honour in Albanian] For the Albanians, especially those who broke away from the Italians, (particularly in the US), during the late 1980s, early 1990s, the age-old concepts of family and honour, they felt, were traditions many of the younger bosses were abandoning. This, they believed, was most likely the reason why law enforcement authorities were able to penetrate the ranks of Italian organized crime and disrupt the organisations? and families' activities.24

As to the actual personnel involved in regional crime organisations, recruitment for both the Albanians, as well as other organised families such as the Sicilian Mafia, came from four primary sources. First, from 1990-1992, the deteriorating domestic situation in Albania resulted in a massive exodus of refugees headed for both Greece and Italy. Without any documentation, tens of thousands left Albania. In Greece, the government in Athens was forced to expel approximately 85,000 refugees in 1991, 380,000 in 1992, and 92,000 during the first six months of 1993.25 By 1994, Greek authorities estimated that between 600 and 1500 Albanians crossed the border illegally, each day. Many of the Albanians, young males in their twenties and thirties, usually unskilled labourers, often found little or no employment in Greece. This resulted in many of them roaming the streets, engaged in criminal activity.26 While the majority of this type of crime was petty, the probability exists that a small portion of it was geared towards coordinating drugs and arms smuggling with Greek sources of contraband destined for Western Europe.

Italy, also bore the brunt of Albanian migration during the 1990-1991 period. In March 1991, hoping for a chance at a better life in the West, tens of thousands of Albanians stormed the port at Durres and hijacked anything that would float. During the first week of March, over twenty-thousand Albanian refugees arrived at the Italian ports of Bari, Brindisi, and Otranto.27 During the next one to one-and-a-half years, thousands more tried to cross over into Italy, despite Rome's dispatch of eight-hundred troops, part of Operation Pelican, to the Albanian port of Durres. Inspite of efforts by Rome to repatriate more than half the refugees, estimates believe approximately 40,000 to 50,000 were allowed to stay. Coupled with those who continue to enter Italy illegally, their numbers could be as high as 100,000 to 125,000.28 Like their Albanian counterparts who fled to Greece, many of the refugees were young, unemployed males, put out of work when hundreds of state-run factories were closed down. Bitter, resentful, and willing to do anything for wages, these men were ideal candidates for organised crime groups in Italy. Their ingenuity and ability to circumvent the area border patrols presented them with a chance to operate as mules and couriers for the Sicilian Mafia, especially now that Albania was needed as a conduit for drug trafficking since the Yugoslav route was closed off due to the war.

A second source of recruitment, particularly for the regional Albanian crime gangs was a result of the democratic arrival of 1992. The Bersiha Administration had promised that it would downsize and get rid of many security personnel from the old communist era state intelligence unit Sigurimi. This body feared by many for its harsh and brutal treatment, was devastated during the late 1992-1993 period. The Albanian government removed nearly two-thirds of its personnel, including many junior ranking officers, responsible for training and military intelligence.29 Many of the ex-Sigurimi agents, once in feared positions of power, now found themselves unemployed, stripped of their state pensions. Antagonistic towards the new government, these personnel offered their services to those willing and capable of paying for them, organised crime. In a situation akin to former East German Stasi agents assisting the Russian Mafia,30 ex-Sigurimi personnel know the system all too well. Unable effectively to divert funds into changing its defences, Tirana instead focused its reform on more pressing concerns. These ex-agents can train, brief, and assist in circumventing state-controls, all for payment in hard currency and a comfortable life in the West. Indeed, recent activities in the United States by Albanians suggest military style operations, achieved only through the type of training these ex-agents could provide. Growing concern among area authorities, especially, Greek, Italian, and Macedonian ones, is that the current Albanian Intelligence personnel, [part of the State Intelligence Service, SHIK], are also involved in organised arms and drugs trafficking.31 While there is a strong possibility of such collusion, hard evidence to support these claims is limited. In all likelihood, however, some personnel may be involved, yet it remains to be seen whether or not they are acting alone or on orders from SHIK.

The third source of recruitment comes form the emigre communities located throughout Western Europe. Whether in Italy, Brussels, Paris, or Switzerland, ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania, have been sought out by organized crime groups for criminal activity. Those from the former Yugoslavia, especially, having fled during the outbreak of civil war, were taken into the capitals of Western Europe as political refugees. As their numbers swelled, these unemployed refugees, unable to obtain government assistance, found that there was money to be made in organised crime. Many were taken on as cheap labour in restaurants, cafes, and the like. This is particularly true of Kosovars in Brussels. Once there, they were given places to stay, false papers, and paid in cash. Beholden to the Albanians already in place, many were recruited for organised crime groups operating in the region. Their familiarity with Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania made them naturals for ferrying contraband back and forth.32

The final source of recruitment by these groups in the region comes from the scores of corrupt politicians, law enforcement personnel, and officials throughout the area. While few have been caught and uncovered, many more remain active, allowing these groups to operate without restriction and with impunity. Too numerous to list, several examples will perhaps demonstrate the extent and lengths these groups can reach. In Albania, the Democratic Alliance Party recently accused none other than the Albanian

Defence Minister, Safet Zhulali, of involvement in arms trade to Bosnian factions, and of large scale cigarette smuggling.33 Although he was later cleared of these charges, investigations are still underway to try and determine who, exactly, was responsible. Former Albanian Prime Minister and Socialist leader, Fatos Nano, was forced to resign amid allegations that he was involved with embezzlement of state funds. He was implicated along with former Italian Foreign Minister, Gianni de Michelis. Former Democratic Party members of the cabinet, Genc Ruli [Finance], and Rexhep Uka [Deputy PM], were also indicted on charges of office abuse and corruption.34 Arben Lika, former head of the Albanian Youth Forum, and Member of Parliament [DP], was recently released after serving a ten month sentence for cigarette smuggling and document forgery.35 In Macedonia, former Interior Minister Lubomir Frckovski, expressed fears that the newly formed Macedonian Army, may have criminal elements in it, especially from among the ethnic Albanians who constitute three-and-a-half percent of its officer corps. Similar fears were also expressed by the Democratic Party of Macedonia that believes these men are trying to hoard weapons and form paramilitary units in Western Macedonia.36 These examples, some of which are still under investigation, are small samples of how far and high criminal activity has reached. Many of these government personnel, it is believed, are directly linked with organised groups, while others are cognisant of their actions yet do not dissuade them.37

Structure 38

Law enforcement officials, both in the United States and throughout Western Europe, are still trying to determine whether or not the Albanians are indeed, organised. Questions remain as to their actions and if these are the acts of small semi-independent gangs, or fall under the command of one family or group of families. It appears that the structure of these groups, due to their quick rise, success rates, and coordination of activities, suggest a hierarchical chain of command, that is intricate and based upon the Sicilian Mafia's system of bosses and under-bosses which revolves around blood and marriage relatives. Yet, it seems that in Europe, as well to some extent in the US, the chain of command is a decentralised one, that allows for flexibility among the small crews which carry out activity, while general directives flow from the top to the bottom, a system predicated upon the Russian Mafia.

For these groups, it seems that the basic command structure, reliant upon their politico - cultural experiences with communist rule, is one rooted in communist party apparatus. The group's structure begins with the Leadership Council, which directs overall activity, both at home and abroad. The Council likely incorporates representatives of area families and their fis, or extended family. One council, for example, would oversee operations for the entire Albanian, Kosovo, and Macedonian area while, within each nation,a system of underbosses, part of the immediate fis of members within the Leadership Council are selected to run operations for their designated areas. It has been their secrecy and ability to stay one step ahead of authorities which lends credence to the notion that several Albanian politicians are themselves members of the Leadership Council.39 Within the council, rank of the members becomes dependent upon family relations. Blood relatives, [gjak], are given higher rank, and become more trusted members than relatives by marriage [miqsi]. The Council serves almost as a trusteeship body for the variety of area crime groups, an overall support structure that delineates territory among the families and acts as the final arbiter for disputes. As for direction, the Council offers general directives to area units, some of which, while not immediately beneficial to area families, do aid other area units. This method of direction shields the Council from area units since specific orders cannot be traced to one particular individual.

The heads of each family within the Council constitute the leaders of area units. These units often comprise regions relative to the size, status, and power [proportional to material resources]. For example, in New York, representatives for several families congregate and coordinate activity in the Bronx. However, law enforcement officials believe that among the other four boroughs, actions are carried out by separate family gangs. Within the area units, each family contains an executive committee, or bajrak. Made up

of the head of each area fis, and gjak relatives, the bajrak serves as the inner circle of each area family. The krye, or boss of each family, hand picks unit leaders [kryetar, or under-bosses], often gjak relatives. The

bajrak provides the resources for kryetars including the requisite tactics and training necessary for conducting arms and drugs smuggling, as well as sophisticated burglaries. It has been the tactics of these groups which suggests the ex-Sigurimi agents from Albania are also involved. Recent attacks by small crews in the New York-New Jersey area indicate such training. They appear militaristic and methodical in their tactics. Specifically, they often engage in quick, multi-pronged attacks against multiple targets within one concentrated area, and within a relatively short time. This keeps authorities guessing as to where they may strike and thus ensures a high ratio of success.

The overall success, however, for area units depends upon the coordinating activities of two officers within the family. The first is the liaison officer, sometimes referred to as miq. The miq sees to it that levels of coordination among area units remains high. This ensures that territory will not be infringed upon, and that regional units can assist one another without incident, if need be. Often not a gjak relation, it appears this system predominates among the major Eastern city families of the US. Such coordination allows for funds to be accumulated and remitted overseas for laundering, most often through front companies such as Import/ Export businesses, transportation companies, and processing plants located

throughout the Balkans, and Albania especially. Such activity, brings to light the duties of the second officer, the emigre coordinator. This person is likely a gjak relative and likely uses emigre social and/or political groups as cover for repeated trips from the US and Western European capitals, back to Albania, Macedonia, or Kosovo. Emigre coordinators most likely have a small support staff of miqsi whom they use as trouble-shooters, heavies, and the like. The latter's tasks include communicating with other crime gangs and serving as buffers once authorities get too close. The emigre coordinator, should he operate under

the cover of a Albanian socio-political group, such as Legaliteti or Balli Kombetar, most likely uses group personnel and a similar command structure to the overall families.

At the core of the Albanian organised crime structure is the cell or crew. This is the basic unit for criminal activity, especially in the US and Western Europe. It is usually small, consisting of between four and ten members, some of whom are likely to be related. The head of each crew or chef, becomes responsible for choosing the method for carrying out directives from the kryetar. This, in keeping with the decentralised chain of command, allows for flexibility and increases the likelihood for success since circumstances vary with each target. During the past two years or so, Albanians have been picked up across the North-eastern coast of America, particularly in the Tri-state area. During 1994 and 1995, crews were

arrested for widespread burglaries of supermarkets, ATM machine and restaurants with hauls of over $50,000 [US] at one time. Four men, (Ardjan Bujaj, Sokol Nukaj, Nikolin Prelaj, and Engjell Rezaj), were detained in August, 1995 by New Jersey authorities for possible involvement in a regional crime spree which occurred one year prior to their arrest.40 They were seized with sophisticated cutting tools, communication devices and surveillance equipment, again suggesting high levels of training. Many crew members arrested in the last two years carried out extensive surveillance of a target before striking. In one instance, Albanians engaged in counter-surveillance of FBI personnel, staking out a possible target, and struck once the FBI gave up the stake-out.41 As to their lifestyle, crew members often lead a simple, non-extravagant life, not drawing attention to themselves. They enjoy frequenting the increasing number of Albanian social clubs and cafes which have sprung up across cities in Europe and the US.42 While authorities have managed to arrest and detain some crews, further investigations into their activities, whom they were working for, and their directives, etc. have turned up short. Loyalty and secrecy continue to be maintained and infiltration is difficult if not impossible. This is due primarily to the fact that, given the high concentration of Albanians among cities, and the close knit culture in which they operate and conduct business with one another, one can almost always, through some digging, find out "who", exactly potential recruits are, where they are from, family relations, etc. This makes the possibility of infiltration difficult.

Moreover, given the decentralised nature of the organisation, closure of one crew's activities, does not jeopardise the entire regional unit's overall operations.43

Operations and Activities

As to the nature and extent of group actions, they have increased, in both scope and intensity since 1990. In Europe, and especially in and around the Balkans, authorities have been struggling to keep up with these gangs.

Italy

The last thing Rome needed, combating its own Mafia organisations, was the presence of organised Albanian crime gangs operating both on their own, and in conjunction with the Sicilian Mafia. Indeed, the situation has become so critical that both the Italian and Albanian governments have sought to combine their efforts to combat this threat. In May 1995, Albanian Prime Minister Alexsander Meksi met with then Italian Deputy Interior Minister Luigi Rossi to discuss the illegal Albanians who continue to be smuggled into Italy by small motorboats. Meksi believed that some of these refugees should be given legal and that seasonal work visas ought to be provided. The Italians, wary that many of these refugees will only serve criminal purposes, [and rightly so], dispatched up to seven hundred police and soldiers to guard the coast of Puglia. As crime by the Albanians continued to rise, more concerted efforts were sought. By July 1995, Italian Ambassador Paolo Foresti met with the police chief of Vlore regarding this illegal migration and its use in organised crime. The two sides agreed to meet again and establish a delegation which would discuss Mafia activities in the region.44 These efforts, however, may not succeed in closing down

significant organised operations. The links between the Albanians and the Italians still exist and appear to have increased as regional drug trafficking has expanded. For example, an Albanian under-boss was recently extradited by Italy to the US. Andreja Spaci, 27, had fled the Bronx section of New York in 1993, wanted for organised activity. He hid out in Milan for two years before being picked up by Italian authorities.45 Activities that he conducted, though, in the New York area continue unabated. Sources believe that Spaci answered directly to another, Anton Spaci, either his father or uncle, it is not yet clear.46 Anton, in his mid-to-late forties originates from the north of Albania near the Shkodar area. He emigrated to the West and settled in the Fordham section of the Bronx. Once there, he apparently met up with the son of one of his father's closest friends, Abedin Kolbiba. Kolbiba, known by his alias, "Dino", also lived in the Fordham section, arriving in the US in the early 1960s. Originally from Tropoja, Dino started out collecting for the Italian families in the Bronx, including the Gambinos. Later, as he became more trusted, sources believe, he was contracted out by the Lucchese family as an assassin. Apparently, his reputation for this line of work was made when he free-lanced his services among the Albanian families in the Tri-state area that hired him out for blood hits, the settling of vendettas. As he moved up the ladder, he took in Albanians, such as Anton Spaci, who were willing to work for him as trouble-shooters. .The two began to operate independently in the early 1990s. They were known to travel extensively to Europe during this period, most likely under aliases. According to some sources, Dino left for Greece sometime between April and May, 1995. He has not resurfaced since. As for Anton, his whereabouts are not known since the arrest and extradition of Andreja.

Perhaps the most notorious and elusive of such characters, though, is one Zef Mustafa.47 In his mid-thirties, Mustafa, it was believed, originally began his career as a driver for the Gambino consigilere, Frank Locascio. It was also believed that it was Locascio who managed to get Mustafa to evade police on a murder charge that occurred in the Bronx in 1985. Eventually contracted out for hits, Mustafa continued to work for the Gambinos, occasionally free-lancing when possible. Little is known about his background. According to some, he often uses the alias, Mustafa Korca; this in keeping with what many Albanians do when they seek anonymity, using one part of their name and often a region as their surname. Apparently,

Mustafa Korca's family originated from the south of Albania near Korca. He was either born there or in Tirana, yet raised in the capital. His parents managed to emigrate to the US after spending several years in Italy. Between 1992 and 1993, Mustafa was seen in the city of Pocradec where authorities say he was involved in an investment scam which reportedly took in millions before he left. He has been known to travel throughout Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Brussels and Paris before returning to New York. It isbelieved he controls and/or oversees a significant portion of the drug trade that emanates from Europe, including Italy, to Canada, and eventually to Detroit, Boston, and Chicago, areas where there are concentrated Albanian communities.

As for his contacts in Italy, speculation by some sources believes this is where front companies play a role. One such company, perhaps involved was recently the victim of a car bomb blast killing five people in Tirana.48 Vefa Holdings, a joint Albanian-Italian venture may have been the target of the Albanian mafia, victim of an extensive protection racket that has sprung up in Albania over the past three years.49 Despite arrests of two ex-Intelligence officers by Albanian authorities, and the government's claims that this was a political terrorist act, investigations into the true motives continue.50 Buying up old factories and other former state-run businesses gave the Italians an opportunity to use these plants, some

located just outside of Tirana, as fronts which could store and ship heroin coming in from Middle East sources. Such facilities became a necessity for the Italians when warfare in Yugoslavia closed down operations there.

The Former Yugoslavia

Since its break-up, the republics of the former Yugoslavia have been forced to contend with organised Albanian crime gangs linked, authorities believe, with political elements in these countries. As early as 1992, the United States Department of State issued a travel advisory to people travelling on the Albanian-Macedonian border. According to State Department sources, "Americans of ethnic Albanian descent" were stopping travellers and robbing them of all their possessions.51 As the Macedonian authorities were well aware, they were not equipped to fight these organised elements that slipped across borders at will. Indeed, one such wanted criminal, Basri Bajrami was only recently caught and turned over to Interpol authorities after having been sought for over two years.52 Bajrami, it was felt, was the mastermind behind the 1989 kidnapping of former Belgian Prime Minister, Paul Boeyenants. Arrested in 1993, Bajrami escaped from St. Jules Prison and fled to Macedonia. In open defiance local authorities, Bajrami used hard currency to open a slew of boutiques and discos in Macedonia, most likely using them as fronts for drug trafficking. Allegedly one of the leaders of the Patrick Haemers Gang, which specialises in robbing armoured trucks, Bajrami may have had involvement with two Albanians in the Lake Orhid region of Macedonia, across from Pocradec. Brothers Arshi and Muhamet "Frankie" La_ka have, for the past two or three years, purchased and contracted out work on sophisticated safes and alarm detection devices. These purchases, officials believe, are then used as methods of practice for groups about to conduct activity both in Europe and the United States. 53 Macedonian police have also revealed that the increasing percentage of drug trade conducted through Macedonia is largely controlled by the Albanians, often working in conjunction with the Turkish minority of Macedonia 54 which then assists in transporting the material to Germany, where the Turkish Mafia's drug infrastructure is one of the strongest in Europe. Since 1991, Macedonian police report the seizure of more than 300 kilograms of heroin, 65.7 kg. of raw opium, and 57.3 kg. of marihuana emanating from Macedonia. 55 The high levels of such trade have prompted reactions by both Shkopje and Tirana. Montor Bumbari, District Council Chair and Sp_ak Tolollai, Inter-Border Relations Chair, met with their Macedonian counterpart, Vangiel Dubruhovski to discuss the organised crime and smuggling routes these groups have used in both Albania and Macedonia.56 While both parties agreed on the need for stricter border controls, measures on how to halt the processing of drugs, now believed occurring at secret facilities in both countries, could not be reached. 57 Indeed, following the October, 1995 assassination attempt on Macedonian President, Kiro Gligorov, relations between the two soured. This was due to local Macedonian media and authorities' reports that organised Albanian criminal elements may have been responsible for the attempt on Gligorov's life.58

In Montenegro, previous UN sanctions on the republic have increased the activities of the black market, as well as, activities of regional drug trafficking groups, particularly the Albanians.59 Reports by the Albanian authorities on increased smuggling include other forms of contraband, such as fuel shipments, foodstuffs, and medical supplies, etc.60 From 1993 to October 1995, authorities seized over 50,000 litres of smuggled fuel, bound for Montenegro from Albania. The Albanian Foreign Ministry at first denied these reports. However, on a two day state visit to Croatia, Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi confirmed that fuel was indeed being smuggled into Montenegro. Interior Minister Agron Musaraj verified that this was the work of organised elements and that several trucks were indeed captured by police and border patrols.61 Albanian authorities have also expressed concern over the increasing brutal way these gangs conduct operations. According to unconfirmed sources, police were involved in a fivehour gun battle with smugglers bound for Montenegro. Local police gave up after running out of ammunition while the smugglers went, unimpeded, on their way.62 Activities of these groups in Kosovo, while they occur, become difficult to confirm since Serb sources often exaggerate claims, or invent false ones. However, one thing does remain clear. Albanian organised crime families have managed, in the past five years, to increase their activities throughout the Balkans. Their levels of success, coordination and assistance with emigre groups in Europe and the United States provide them with material support and cover for their activities.

The United States

Of particular concern to law enforcement personnel, however, has been the level of organised Albanian activity within the US. By the early to mid-1980s, Albanians in area cities and suburbs outside Detroit and New York were already involved in crimes ranging from robbery to extortion.63 Indeed, by 1985, Albanians were already gaining notoriety for their drug trafficking. This activity became predominant among the so-called Balkan Route which begins in Central Asia, through Istanbul to Belgrade and, with

Sicilian and French connections, makes its way to the US. American Drug Enforcement Administration officials estimated that between 25 percent and 40 percent of the US heroin supply by 1985 was taking this route, with Albanian assistance.64

Ten years later, more organised, disciplined and out on their own, Albanian crime gangs have increased the scope of both their activities and geographic locations within the United States. By January 1995, authorities estimated that approximately 10 million US dollars in cash and merchandise had been stolen from some 300 supermarkets, ATM machines, jewelry stores and restaurants.65 By the early 1990s, groups based in the New York area, particularly the Bronx, were committing robberies with such frequency and success that local law enforcement officials realized federal assistance would be required. The FBI, however, was equally at a loss as to the nature, extent, and structure of these groups. After examination of several criminal incidents, some conclusions were made. First, it appeared that many of the thefts which occurred were carried out, in an attempt to fund either the war effort in the former Yugoslavia, or to assist fellow Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo.66 Concern among those area authorities, as previously stated, was that this source of funding was aiding those more right wing elements that are stockpiling weapons awaiting the right time for future insurrection. Second, it appeared that the Albanians operating within the US had a series of crews separated into premier and second class units depending upon the difficulty of the job. For example, the A-team would use oxygen tanks, and electro-magnetic core drill, rotary hammers and over one hundred metal drill rods capable of reaching temperatures between 9,000 and 10,000 degrees F¦. With skill and precision, they could use the torches without damaging either money and/or jewels within the safe. The A-team also has an intricate network of lookouts equipped with walkie-talkies, sophisticated police scanners, and often disables alarms and area communications boxes before an operation.67 The B-team is not as sophisticated. Consisting of between four and six men, the team often carries cutters and twenty pound sledgehammers with large steel wedges, and crowbars, used for prying open safes and ATM machine doors while one or two men stand lookout along with a driver.68 While lacking in sophistication the B-team makes up for it in brutality and cunning. These men are often Albanians from Albania, Kosovo, or Macedonia looking for quick money and with little skill. Used to severe treatment, by Serb authorities or simply a hard life in their homeland, even caught, they often will gladly accept prison terms complete with a bed and three square meals a day as preferable to what they once had in their native countries.

While authorities are not certain as to who may control large sections of organised Albanian gangs, some speculation, based upon recent arrests, has led law enforcement to believe that transnational links are eminent. One such `godfather' of the Albanian mafia is reputed drug trafficker Daut Kadriovski. Based in Turkey, Kadriovski reportedly has extensive links with his lieutenants in Europe and the US. Although Australian Federal Police were after Kadriovski after he went to their embassy in Athens for a new passport after allegedly creating a drug distribution centre among the Albanian and Croatian emigre communities in Sydney and Brisbane. He evaded authorities and was seen in Germany under one of his many aliases. Within the US, his contacts include Albanians living in the Bronx and across New Jersey. Authorities also believe that Kadriovski may have links with the Grey Wolves, a fascist Pan-Islamic organization opposed to the current Turlish regime, with cells in Germany and Western Turkey.69

Despite efforts by law enforcement to curb Albanian activities, men such as Kadriovski continue to evade police. Using his lieutenants in the US, thefts and the like have increased, after a lag period during late 1995 and early 1996. Branching out from major cities, the Albanians from the Bronx, area have been accused of robberies from south Jersey, to Washington DC, to Philadelphia, Virginia, South Carolina, Detroit, and Chicago.70 By the beginning of 1996, authorities in New York had hoped that Albanian activity would decrease following the arrest of two of its regional leaders, Mirsad Pjitrovic and Vucksan `Ranko' Mickovic.71 Instead, coordinating their plans from such social hangouts as the Besa, Two Star and Gurra cafes in the Bronx, the Albanians actually increased their regional activities. This lending credence to the theory about a decentralized structure among these groups so that activity can continue regardless of leadership removal.72 Despite attempts to control their activities, police remain at a loss while the Albanians gain strength.

Conclusion

Learning from the mistakes of those that once employed them - the Italians - the Albanians have managed to remain disciplined, have not overextended themselves in their activities, have known when to cut their losses and run, and above all, have not yet turned on their own people among the emigre communities. This, along with their reputation for brutality with impunity, has resulted in the continued success of their operations and further secrecy of the organisations themselves. As for law enforcement, the inability to understand the culture of these groups leaves agencies at a loss in terms of response. Infiltration becomes difficult if not impossible due to both cultural and language obstacles which include a myriad of dialects. Moreover, many Albanians will not turn over their own kind, a loyalty indicative of a siege mentality most Albanians have. Until they themselves are targeted, informants are not likely. In the meantime, activities increase with little end in sight.

______________________

ENDNOTES:

1 According to some historians, this code, part of Albanian culture for centuries and embodied in the Canun of Lek Dukagjeni, incorporates all facets of social relations. It is a belief held by some that when the Ottomans arrived to Albania in the C15th, several thousand Albanians fled across the Straits of Otranto to southern Italy. They took with them their code. The notion of besa, or honour [promise], it was believed could have been incorporated into the Mezzagione, or men of respect. Cited in Misha Glenny's `The Rebirth of History' [London: Penguin, 1990]

2. Discussion with New Jersey State Law Enforcement official. [November/95]

3. Claire Sterling, `Octopus', (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), pp.180-189.

4. Claire Sterling, `Thieve's World' (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp.55-60.

5. Discussion with Albanian currently serving time for racketeering and drug charges. He is believed to have been working with the Lucchese crime family of New Jersey.

6. Although numbers vary, it is believed that ethnic Albanians make-up 90% of the population of Kosovo, Serbs comprise the remaining 10%. The last accurate census taken was the 1981 census. Based upon those figures, it is assumed approximately two million Albanians live in Kosovo. Patrick Moore,

`The Albanian Question in the Former Yugoslavia' RFE/RL [3 April, 1992], pp.7-15.

7. Ibid, p.10., and Branka Magas, `The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Breakup 1980-1992' [London: Verso Press, 1993], pp.160-161.

8. The Economist [1 July, 1989], p.47., Magas, op.cit: p.160., Liam McDowall, `Confused Signals in Kosovo', New Statesman and Society [5 March, 1993], p.13.

9. Illyria vol. 3 #182 [3 April, 1993], p.3.

10. Discussion with owner of manufacturing plant outside Tirana who was approached by certain people, as he describes them, who wished to rent space in his plant to store material. After first agreeing to do so, he was subsequently approached by Albanian local authorities who suggested he turn down the deal. [November, 1995]

11. See, 1993 United States Department of State Human Rights Report, [Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1993], p.1., and Natasha Narayan, `Freedom for Albanians Brings Wave of Crime' The Sunday Times [22 March, 1992], and Louis Zanga RFE/RL Report [January, 1992]

12. Liam McDowall, `Albania Learns the Art of Wrecking', New Statesman and Society [13 December, 1991], p.18.

13. Brenda Fowler, `Crimewave fills Tirana with Fear', The London Times [17 February, 1992], `Raiders Grab Food Aid', The London Times [27 February, 1992]

14. David Binder, `Revamped Police Slow Albanian Slide into Chaos', The International Herald Tribune [30 October, 1992]

15. James Pettifer, `Dispirited Albania Prepares to Vote', The London Times [11 March, 1992], Anne McElvoy, `Ballot Offers no way out for Albania's Ills', The London Times [18 March, 1992]

16. New Jersey State Law Enforcement Authority [November, 1995]

17. See, Magnus Ranstorp and Gus Xhudo, `A Threat to Europe? Middle East Ties with the Balkans and the Potential for Terrorist Activity Throughout the Region', Terrorism and Political Violence vol. 6 #2 [Summer, 1994]

18. Ibid

19. Marko Milivijevic, `The Balkan Medellin', Jane's Intelligence Review vol. 7 #2 [February, 1995], pp.68-69.

20. Mark Galleotti, `The Drug Threat from Eastern Europe', Jane's Intelligence Review [November, 1995], pp.486-488.

21. Gus Xhudo, `The Balkan Albanians- Biding Their Time?', Jane's Intelligence Review vol.7 #5 [May, 1995], pp.208-211.

22. For a thorough account of the Albanian social system see, Ramadan Marmallaku, `Albania and the Albanians' [London: C. Hurst & Co.:1975]

23. Helena Smith, `Lost Land Where Vengeance is Written in Blood', The Observer [12 February, 1995]

24 Selwyn Raab, `Mafia Defector Says he Lost His Faith', The New York Times [2 March, 1994]

25 Robert Austin, `Albanian-Greek Relations: The Confrontation Continues', RFE/RL [20 August, 1993], pp.30-35., Henry Kamm, `With Nothing to Lose, Albanians Invade Greece', The New York Times [5 August, 1993], RFE/RL Newsbriefs [28 October, 1993], Illyria [13 February, 1993], p.1.

26. Louis Zanga, `Albanian-Greek Relations Reach a Low Point', RFE/RL [10 April, 1992], pp.18-21,

JRS Peckham, `Albanians in Greek Clothing', The World Today [April, 1992], pp.58-59.

27. Zanga, op.cit. [January, 1992], p.75., Keesings Contemporary Archives, [March, 1991], p.38105.

28. Discussion with Dr. Elez Biberaj, Head of Albanian Section, VOA Washington DC [August, 1993]

29. Recollection of discussions with high ranking Executive Branch official of the Berisha government. [June, 1993]

30. Point made by Claire Sterling in Thieve's World. See also, Selwyn Raab, `Influx of Russian Gangsters Troubles FBI in Brooklyn', The New York Times [23 August, 1994], and, Judith Ingram, `Riding Shotgun in Capitalist Russia', The New York Times [16 February, 1994]

31. Milivojevic, op.cit., p.69.

32. Xhudo and Ranstorp, op.cit. [Summer, 1994], and, Gus Xhudo, `Macedonia: the Trouble from Within', Terrorism and Political Violence vol. 5 #4 [Winter, 1993], pp.311-335.

33. OMRI Digest [10 March, 1995]

34. Gazeta Shqiptare [16 March, 1995]

35. RFE/RL [ 11 September, 1995]

36. See, ATA/ Tirana [ 23 August, 1993], and Macedonian Information Centre (hereafter, MIC), [30 November, 1993]

37. Milivojevic, op.cit., p.69.

38. The following sub-section is based upon a two briefings given by the author. The first delivered to representatives of the New Jersey Division of Organised Crime and Racketeering, [30 August, 1995], and to representatives of Organised Crime, Narcotics, and State Intelligence [19 September, 1995]

39. Milivojevic, op.cit., p.69.

40. Guy Sterling, `New Jersey Police Departments on Alert for Albanian Crime Gangs', The New Jersey Star Ledger [16 August, 1995]

41. Discussion with Atlantic and Pacific Stores Inc. Loss Prevention Official prior to Fox 5 TV [New York] interview on YACS' [Yugoslavs, Albanians, Croatians and Serbs] activities in the Tri-State area. [October, 1995- program to be aired mid-to-late November, 1995]

42. Brian T. Murray, The Star Ledger [26 September, 1995]

43. This in keeping with the Russian Mafia's decentralised command apparatus. See, Matthew Purdy, `Police Say Albanian Gangs Make Burglary an Art in US', The New York Times [17 December, 1994]

44. See, RFE/RL [24 May, 1995], and, Gazeta Shqiptare [19 July, 1995]

45. Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, `Albanian Mob Stung', The New York Daily News [14 September, 1995]

46. Unattributable source [November, 1995, New York]

47. See, Peter Moses, `Albanian Mafia: Brutal....to put it Mildly', The New York Post [vol. 191 #48 1992]

48. `Bomb Blast Kills 5 in Albania; 2 Ex-Officers Arrested', The New York Times, (27 February, 1996)

49. `Dirty Tricks in Albania', Foreign Office Report, #2392, (21 March, 1996), p.7.

50. `Powerful Bomb Shatters Central Tirana', Albanian Times, Vol. 2 #8 (1 February, 1996)

51. United States Department of State Travel Advisory, issued 12 June, 1992.

52. OMRI Digest,[ 1 August, 1995]

53. New Jersey State Law Enforcement Official, [November, 1995]

54. Speculation on this possibility increased after Macedonian authorities seized 37.4 kg. of heroin recently on the Macedonian-Bulgarian border. According to police, the man detained was an ethnic Turk, with origins in the highly Albanian populated town of Kumanovo. Police believe the shipment was bound for Germany where it would have been worth 10 million Deutschemarks. See, MIC, [4 August, 1995]

55. Macedonian Information Liasion Service [hereafter MILS], [8 August, 1995]

56. Radio Tirana, [24 October, 1995]

57. Milivojevic, op.cit.

58. MIC, (5 October, 1995) and, Sasa Pesev, `Bomb Blast Wounds Macedonian President', The Associated Press (4 October, 1995)

59. Amnesty International/ Yugoslavia Report, Index: Europe 70/06/94, issued by Amnesty International [April, 1994]

60. OMRI Digest, [6 October, 1995], and, OMRI Digest, [19 October, 1995]

61. Reuters, [6 April, 1995], and, Gazeta Shqiptare [7 April, 1995], and, RFE/RL [12 April, 1995], and RFE/RL [11 May, 1995]

62. OMRI Digest, [3 November, 1995]

63. Anthony M. DeStefano, `The Balkan Connection', The Wall Street Journal (9 September, 1985)

64. Ibid.

65. Amy Beth Terdiman, `$120,000 Burgalries Linked', The Record (9 January, 1995)

66. Jose Lambiet, `Balkan Ring Looting US', The New York Daily News (19 May, 1993)

67. Anne Keegan, `The Yugo Gang', The Chicago Tribune (3 November, 1993)

68. Karl Alizade, Head of City Safe Engineering Corporation, Jersey City New Jersey; Talk given at the Mid-Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime and Law Enforcement Network Conference. (Philadelphia: 24 April, 1996)

69. Discussion with New Jersey State Law enforcement investigator, (May, 1996)

70. Marc Carey, `Police Fearful Gangs will keep robbing Stores', The Washington Post (4 January, 1995) and, Kristi Nelson, `Immigrant Band Suspected in Break-ins', The Philadelphia Inquirer (23 March, 1995) and, William Ehart, `Burglars Loot Cape ATMs', The Atlantic City Press (26 May, 1995)

71. William Sherman and Daniel Goldfarb, `Albanian Gangs Breaking into the Big Leagues', The New York Post (11 January, 1996)

72. Point made by author at the National Law Enforcement and Intelligence Unit Conference, Guest Speaker (Ft. Lauderdale: 15 May, 1996)

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