AKIPRESS.COM - Albania, a small country in southeastern Europe, has become the epicenter of the European drugs trade, especially marijuana. This should come as no surprise. With its extensive coastline along the Adriatic, this region of the Balkans has long been the trailhead for illicit goods, weapons and drugs hiking into the heart of Europe. This activity has bolstered the rise of organized crime and political corruption in a country that already faces many domestic challenges, reports The Huffington Post.
What makes the current situation unique are the allegations, especially coming from the opposition Democratic Party, that senior officials of the ruling Socialist Party are connected to or benefit from the drug trade. Prime Minister Edi Rama has been repeatedly accused of failing to do enough to stop Albania’s role in Europe’s drug trade. And Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri has even been accused of protecting – and even covering up for – those involved in the drug trade.
Earlier this month, an Italian pilot, Andrea Guidi, crash landed in a field north of Albania’s capital of Tirana. At first Guidi claimed he was flying over Albania for recreational reasons. However, a journalist named Artan Hoxha claimed that the pilot had told prosecutors that he was checking out the terrain before returning 20 days later to pick up 200 kg of cannabis.
Soon authorities detained Hoxha, apparently for releasing sensitive information to the public. The plot thickened when the opposition Democratic Party suggested that the information that Hoxha shared was actually released by Interior Minister Tahiri as a ploy to “compromise the investigation” and cover-up the nefarious acts of the drug traffickers.
Earlier this year, Greek authorities accused the Albanian government of protecting and covering up for Klemend Balili, an Albanian businessman who served as a local administration official in the southern Albanian city of Saranda. Balili is suspected of financing a racket exporting marijuana from Albania to Western Europe. Again, Albania’s opposition Democratic Party was quick to point out Balili’s political connections and accused Tahiri of protecting the alleged kingpin.
The government’s inconsistency regarding what it is doing to put an end to Albania’s drug problem is also sowing distrust. Last year Albanian authorities claimed to have destroyed 99.2 percent of the country’s marijuana. This is fanciful. Already this year, police claim to have destroyed 1.7 million cannabis plants which apparently is three times the amount destroyed last year. The math doesn’t add up.
In many ways a country like Albania is ripe for this sort of venality and illicit activity. It ranks 88th in the world in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index. And The Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom gave the country a “repressed” rating – lowest rating possible in the category of corruption.