One of the unintended consequences of the dismantling of large Colombian cartels over recent years has been the return of European crime groups to Colombia. It is reported that groups from the Balkans have also arrived, hardened from years of working in a conflict zone. Striking relationships with South American partners, they are opening up the Western Balkans to cocaine flows. Ports in Albania and Montenegro have become destinations for large cocaine shipments.
On January 13, Albanian police dismantled a laboratory for extracting cocaine from cement shipments and seized just under 20kgs of cocaine. The suspects arrested included the grandson of a former President Enver Hoxha and two Colombian nationals. It appears that the cocaine was loaded in Cuba. Once unloaded in Albania it could have been plugged into a well-established trafficking infrastructure. The Balkans has long been associated with the heroin trade, cigarette smuggling, THB, organ trade and arms trafficking.
What is not clear is how the cocaine finds its way into the Adriatic, how it is sourced, transportation organised, the purchase and shipment financed. Most importantly, perhaps, is the questions of whether these cocaine shipments are routed via West and North Africa, and who is facilitating that trade.
Cocaine being a new and counterintuitive commodity to take along such a circuitous route, has possibly allowed traffickers to evade scrutiny. It certainly speaks of the increasing convergence of cocaine and heroin trafficking in the transit zone. To keep up with fast moving criminal organisations the authorities need to integrate their operations and create better synergies.