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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs


Europe and Central Asia

ALBANIA

I. Summary

Narcotics trafficking, cultivation, and use, and money laundering are all long-standing, but increasingly serious problems in Albania. Widespread unrest and violence early in 1997 and lack of effective border controls exacerbated illegal drug activity. Efforts to restore order and to strengthen counternarcotics efforts toward the end of 1997 have yielded some seizures, but have not brought narcotics trafficking under control. Albania is not a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

II. Status of Country

Albania lies on the Balkan Route which is a primary source of drugs bound for western Europe. Heroin and other drugs reportedly enter Albania, by land and by sea, from Turkey, Bulgaria, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). These drugs then generally leave Albania either by sea to Italy or overland to Greece.

Cultivation/Production. Cannabis is becoming a significant cash crop for Albania's impoverished farmers. Some heroin poppy is also cultivated in rural areas. There are unconfirmed reports of laboratories which process raw heroin or synthetic drugs, in addition to laboratories which cut refined heroin. Yet we have no evidence that either poppy or cannabis are cultivated in sufficient quantities to meet the statutory definition for a major producing country.

Drug Flow/Transit. Albanian organized crime groups are reportedly an increasing presence in those western European countries with significant ethnic Albanian populations. Such groups reportedly also collaborate with Italian, Greek, Turkish, and FYROM drug syndicates.

Demand Reduction. Use of heroin and other narcotics in Albania continues to rise, according to press reports, non-governmental organizations, and anecdotal evidence. The increase is especially serious among the young. Nevertheless, levels of use likely remain below those in neighboring countries.

Some experts assert some of the pyramid schemes which dominated Albania's economy in 1996 and collapsed in March-April 1997 were involved in both the drug trade and money laundering. At least one bank in Albania is also being investigated for suspected money laundering.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. The virtual disappearance of Albania's police forces during the unrest in March-April 1997 left the country's border-crossing points open to drug trafficking. Albanian police estimate as much as 200 kilos of pure heroin entered Albania during March and April, the period of the worst domestic violence. The new government which took office in July 1997 has made considerable efforts to restore order and to regain control of the country's borders, but armed groups continue to operate and smuggling remains rampant. Steps which the new government took include strengthening the counternarcotics section of the Interior Ministry. Staff levels in the section were increased in late 1997 from 30 to over 100. One central office is now responsible for measures to combat drug trafficking, while another is tasked with addressing the problems of drug cultivation and production. Ten regional offices work with the police throughout the country.

Law Enforcement Efforts. A division within the police to combat economic crime was established in August 1997. In addition to its anti-smuggling responsibilities, the section includes a three-person unit responsible for money laundering and other financial crimes. This unit has cooperated with its Italian counterparts on investigations.

Corruption. For trafficking as well as for money laundering, corruption remains an obstacle to effective counternarcotics law enforcement activities.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The US has repeatedly urged successive Albanian governments to address narcotics trafficking and related problems. The DEA's Athens office, which has responsibility for Albania, was not active in the country in 1997 due to the domestic security situation.

Multilateral Cooperation. While most drugs produced in or shipped through Albania are destined for EU countries, the EU has not provided assistance directed to counternarcotics efforts. There is, however, operational cooperation with the authorities of neighboring countries.

The Road Ahead. Embassy Tirana is exploring ways to increase counternarcotics training and cooperation. The DEA's Athens office also plans to resume counternarcotics cooperation with the Albanian authorities.

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