Hunt for drug baron becomes political hot potato in Albania

Hunt for drug baron becomes political hot potato in Albania
By bne IntelliNews February 6, 2017

Albania's National Security Council has urged law enforcement agencies to be more committed and coordinated in their attempts to arrest Klement Balili, the alleged leader of an international drug trafficking group, the office of the president Bujar Nishani said on February 3.

Drug trafficking is considered to be one of the most serious problems in Albania. The Balkan country was one of the world's biggest cannabis producers until 2013, when the government made the fight against narcotics one of its priorities.

The meeting of the Security Council chaired by Nishani was called to determine the next steps regarding the arrest of Balili after officials from the governing Socialist Party were fiercely criticised for the failure to apprehend the wanted marijuana kingpin.

The failure to arrest Balili and allegations of his links to the Socialist Party has become a hot political topic in Albania, four months before the general election due to take place in June. The Socialists and their main rival the Democratic Party frequently accuse each other of links to the criminal underworld. 

“The present case represents not only a great concern to the public, but it also attracted huge attention from Albanian strategic partners, in particular the United States and Nato,” the president office said.

Nishani added that the failure to apprehend Balili could damage Albania's image, as international law enforcement agencies expressed concern on several occasions and are interested in the solution of the problem as soon as possible. According to Nishani the case has a wider dimension.

The meeting of National Security Council was not attended by Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, who justified his absence with his visit to Kosovo. On several occasions, Albania's main opposition Democratic Party has accused Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri from the Socialist Party of protecting Balili, dubbed by some media the “Escobar of the Balkans”.

In a major crackdown in Greece on May 9, 2016, the Greek police seized 67.8 kilograms of raw hemp and arrested 13 Greek and two Albanian citizens. The police claimed at the time that the international group, headed by Balili, had transported cannabis and cocaine into several European countries using local transport companies. 

According to the Democratic Party, Balili who “was wanted for international drug trafficking by half of Europe and the US’s DEA”, was a former director of transport services in the city of Saranda appointed by the Socialists.

Albanian broadcaster OraNews reported on May 17, 2016 that the international arrest warrant for Balili issued by Greek authorities had arrived in Albania and that police officers were looking for him. However, they have failed to apprehend him so far.

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