Kraja Arben (Shkodër, 57 years old) is the head of the Special Anti-Mafia and Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office in Albania (SPAK, in its Albanian acronym). The body was created two and a half years ago due to the increase in cases and the international expansion of these groups. It has an independent structure, with its own court and special rules. Arben, an expert on the matter, warns of the increased presence of these clans in Europe, confirms their establishment in Italy and calls for coordinated action from all countries.
Ask. What kind of organization is the Albanian mafia?
Response. I can’t say it’s a mafia. Rather organized groups that are perfectly structured and very dangerous. They are active in Albania and they reach South America, because they are entering the cocaine trade and they want to have control from the point of production. Their methods are very aggressive and they are small groups: family and friends.
P. Where do they perform?
R. In many countries. The other day a group of cocaine dealers robbed another in London. They contacted an Albanian prisoner in a prison in Ecuador who, in turn, contacted a group of Albanians in Tirana to kidnap the brother from whom he had stolen the coca. They ended up killing him. We’ve arrested a lot of people, but we haven’t found the body yet. I’m telling you so you can see how it works: there are no borders, they move without a problem. Both them and the money. That is why the priority is to work in coordination with other countries. Also with Spain, where we now have an open investigation.
P. Why is it so widespread in Italy?
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R. Because it is close. They can come and go freely and it is very close. They are 70 kilometers by sea. That’s how it works. But they are also in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. And, above all, in Dubai. We have four escapees there, but we cannot extradite them because those laws do not exist and they do not respond to our requests.
P. Has Dubai become a paradise for mafia escapees?
R. Yes, a criminal haven, not a tax haven. There are many refugees from different countries. Also Italians. They arrive with a lot of money and then no one ever answers when we ask for their extradition. They tell you it’s there, but they give you the long haul… Just excuses to do nothing. If they don’t respond to the Italians, imagine us.
P. When are these groups born?
R. Gradually. Case by case they were reinforced and entered the important businesses. First they were street dealers, but then they took over the entire organization. Look, now they have reached Colombia and Ecuador. They settle there. And there have already been two or three homicides with Albanians involved, something that gives you the measure of the situation.
P. What structure do these groups have?
R. They are independent. There are many capos, that’s why I think it’s different from the Italian mafia. They collaborate with each other, but then they can also end up killing each other.
P. Are they capable of coexisting with the Italian mafias or will there be a conflict?
R. So far we see that they work together. But if a war starts, everything will change. These groups are very capable of mutating, of adapting. They are small and move where there is little risk and a larger market.
P. Have they come to challenge the state in Albania, as happened in Italy?
R. We have many cases of arrests and prosecutions. The other day there were 33 at once involved in homicides of all kinds. But so far, luckily, nothing has happened to any judge or prosecutor. But in SPAK, half of the prosecutors have an escort.
P. How can SPAK be defined?
R. It is a superprosecutor’s office with an independent structure that has its center of operations in Tirana, but branches throughout Albania. Organized crime is investigated, but at the group level, not individually. Also terrorism, corruption and high-ranking state officials and politicians. Two and a half years ago we started. We are governed by a special law and we have only one court that deals with our cases. It looks a bit like the Italian Anti-Mafia Prosecutor. In Croatia it’s Uskok… Getting it up and running has been key.
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