HomeNewsEnduring Italians, Ambitious Albanians – How Cocaine is Changing Europe’s Criminal Landscape
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Enduring Italians, Ambitious Albanians – How Cocaine is Changing Europe’s Criminal Landscape

'NDRANGHETA / 21 SEP 2021 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

Ever greater quantities of cocaine are making their way across the Atlantic and are being sold at ever greater prices across Europe. A new Europol report reveals how this has changed the way organized crime operates on the continent.  

In its new Cocaine Insights Report with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Europol has described how the cocaine trafficking landscape has, at once, become more violent and more competitive while also leading to a greater range of alliances between criminal groups.

Here, InSight Crime breaks down three important conclusions of the report.

Rise of the Albanian Mafia

Between 2018 and 2020, 266 people arrested for cocaine trafficking in Europe were Albanian, ahead of 257 Brazilians and 168 Colombians. The next European country to feature on the list was the Netherlands, in eighth-place, with only 51 citizens arrested. The report tracked the presence of Albanian mafia groups in Europe and Latin America. Europol identified an unusual focus on drug trafficking among Albanian groups as opposed to other criminal economies. Ninety-four percent of Albanian criminal groups profiled in 2019 had drug trafficking as their main activity, as opposed to 38 percent of German criminal actors and 30 percent of Turkish gangs.

Profiling a range of criminal operations, Europol and the UNODC found that Albanian traffickers were the main procurers of cocaine at the ports of Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands, controlled much of the British cocaine market, had collaborations with the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy and played a major role in the distribution of cocaine in other major European markets, including Germany, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece and Switzerland.

This outsized influence was largely attributed to the ability of Albanian traffickers to forge direct contacts across Latin America. Since 2012, Albanian criminals have established influence in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador in order to ensure a consistent flow of cocaine, according to the report’s findings.

In January 2021, InSight Crime reported about the murder of an alleged Albanian trafficker in Ecuador and his involvement in the country’s underworld.

SEE ALSO: The Cocaine Pipeline to Europe

The Omnipresent ‘Ndrangheta

The Italian Mafia knows how to roll with the punches. When the dissolution of Colombia’s United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) in 2006 threatened the ‘Ndrangheta’s quasi-monopoly on the Atlantic drug trade, it immediately switched to forming contacts with Mexican groups, the Europol report found.

Since then, it has also forged a strong alliance with the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) in Brazil. This has allowed it to maintain control of one of the most reliable cocaine trafficking routes, starting at the port of Santos near São Paulo.

In turn, Europol found that the ‘Ndrangheta’s long-established presence across Europe allowed it to act as a middleman between cocaine source countries and smaller European gangs. “The Italian ‘Ndrangheta have been controlling trafficking flows of cocaine, acting as wholesale suppliers to mid-level distributors based in Europe, who lacked the contacts and capabilities to organize the trafficking of the drug from source to destination markets,” the report's authors wrote.

However, their hegemony is being increasingly challenged by criminal groups around the world moving into Europe. Besides the aforementioned Albanian groups, the ‘Ndrangheta have had to contend with other Balkan and Moroccan mafia in the Netherlands and Belgium, and Nigerian, British and Russian groups in Spain, among others.

SEE ALSO: Balkan Gangs Supervise Cocaine Trade from Colombia and Across Europe

Cut Out the Middleman

Since the breakup of the AUC and the  Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), other criminal groups in Colombia have broken apart into smaller and more localized groups, many of which have the capacity to produce and ship cocaine internationally.

InSight Crime has profiled a number of these groups, including the Pachenca in the north of the country, as well as FARC splinter groups, such as the Border Command (Comandos de la Frontera) at the southern border with Ecuador.

Given the record amounts of cocaine now being produced in Colombia, this diversification has allowed European gangs to find a wider range of potential partners.

“These market shifts may have had an impact on cocaine supply to Europe, by facilitating…new alliances with Europe-based drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)…Some of these criminal actors may gave graduated from mid-level supply and distribution in Europe to wholesale traffickers operating on an international level,” read the report.

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