HomeNewsAlbanian Drug Traffickers Jockey for Position in Ecuador
NEWS

Albanian Drug Traffickers Jockey for Position in Ecuador

COCAINE / 28 FEB 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

The assassination of a suspected Albanian drug trafficker in Ecuador is another reminder of the increasing presence of Balkan trafficking groups in the South American country.

In the last five years, three Albanian nationals have been killed in or around the port city of Guayaquil, a major cocaine exit hub. The latest to be murdered was Ergys Dashi, an Albanian citizen reportedly active in the Ecuador drug trade who was gunned down at a restaurant in late January, El Universo reported.

Prior to his death, Dashi had purportedly become an important liaison between South American drug traffickers and Balkan criminal networks, which have steadily gained a foothold in the region and now contest lucrative cocaine smuggling routes.

He previously operated in Italy, where he was detained in 2014 on suspicion of drug trafficking, according to Albanian media.

Below are three takeaways from Dashi's assassination.

A 'Fresh Start' in Ecuador

Ecuador has become a hotspot for low to mid-level Albanian traffickers, many facing criminal charges and looking to restart their careers outside Europe.

"[Dashi] was denied entry in many European countries, so what do you do? You go to another place on another continent for a fresh start," said Fatjona Mejdini, the coordinator for the Balkans at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

While the leaders of Albanian networks usually operate from their home country or from Dubai, traffickers with a criminal record in Europe often relocate to Ecuador as "they believe that they can find fortunes there," Mejdini told InSight Crime.

Ecuador authorities have previously investigated several Albanian nationals on suspicion of drug trafficking in Guayaquil, including some wanted by INTERPOL.

SEE ALSO: Albanian Mafia Leaves Trail of Blood in Ecuador

Though some Albanians work for a specific Balkan network, Dashi appeared to operate as an independent broker between Ecuadorean traffickers and large-scale Albanian networks operating in South America.

"He was independent, but he had clients and networks [in Ecuador] since this is the way in which they work there," Mejdini told InSight Crime.

The Italian Connection

Over time, Albanian drug networks have made a name for themselves throughout Europe and have also partnered with groups in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Part of this growth stems from alliances forged with the Italian mafia.

Some members of Albanian criminal syndicates have collaborated with the infamous 'Ndrangheta – one of the world's most powerful mafias based in Italy. Albanians initially managed the group's low-level work while gradually gaining criminal expertise and access to lucrative drug routes that have helped them expand operations in South America and elsewhere.

The Albania-'Ndrangheta partnership, dating back to the 1990s, was initially a big brother-little brother dynamic, explained Artan Hoxha, an expert on Albanian organized crime. "Albanian groups used 'Ndrangheta infrastructure, their connections, their air and sea routes and paid their fee to the Italians to do so," he told InSight Crime.

"But as time passed, it seems the [Albanians] have earned their respect and are trusted in more operations," he said.

The extensive contacts and experience gained from this partnership have allowed some Albanian traffickers to operate independently in Ecuador and elsewhere in South America, in turn raising the status of Balkan mafias in the cocaine trade.

Balkan Disputes

Dashi's death is part of a complex panorama in Guayaquil, with competition between Balkan networks involved in the drug trade sometimes descending into conflict.

In January 2021, an Albanian national investigated for drug trafficking in Ecuador was gunned down at his home just outside Guayaquil. In 2017, another Albanian citizen linked to the narcotics trade was shot dead in Guayaquil by two assailants on a motorbike.

The mafia-style killings come amid shifting power dynamics in Guayaquil's criminal underworld. One of the most powerful Albanian crime syndicates with a presence in Ecuador, the "Kompania Bello," suffered a major setback in 2020 after EUROPOL arrested 20 of its members, paving the way for other Balkan networks to enter the fray.

SEE ALSO: Enduring Italians, Ambitious Albanians - How Cocaine is Changing Europe's Criminal Landscape

But the group is now making a comeback, according to Hoxha, and its resurgence could ignite tensions between the other drug networks operating in Ecuador. Hoxha told InSight Crime the group is eager to reassert itself in the South American nation.

"We can see that the [Kompania Bello] is not beaten or destroyed," he told InSight Crime. The group is "using a lot of cash to regain their position and forming new partnerships in Europe to sell their products."

The Kompania Bello has long operated in Guayaquil, functioning as a horizontal alliance between top Albanian cocaine trafficking networks rather than as a traditional cartel, according to Hoxha.

"This alliance delivers cocaine in the UK...the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy," Hoxha said.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 4 NOV 2020

Authorities in Honduras have destroyed more than 100 acres of coca crops this year, showing that criminal groups continue to…

COCAINE / 13 APR 2021

A successful Detroit telecommunications businessman secretly bankrolled the development and construction of an underwater drone, which could have been used…

COLOMBIA / 20 JAN 2014

Authorities in Colombia and Italy have arrested 13 people who formed part of a drug ring connected to the Italian…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…