ALBANIAN gangs smuggling huge shipments of cocaine direct from Europe have changed the face of the UK’s drug market.
The drug is at its cheapest since the 1990s and purer than it has been for a decade as Albanian gangs use the laws of retail to pull off a near total takeover of Britain’s £5bn cocaine industry.
Thousands of Albanians arrived in the UK in the late 1990s and early 2000s during a refugee crisis.
Among them were many Albanians claiming to be Kosovan in what has since been described as “the biggest case of nationality switching” in recent UK immigration history.
They included a small, hardened band of war veterans keen to make their mark in Britain.
Many took jobs as door staff in the heart of London’s sex and vice trade in Soho – then dominated by the Maltese mafia – where they first came to national attention.
The Albanians began working alongside the sex dons – before it is claimed they quickly took over London’s prostitution rackets.
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SEX TRADE TAKEOVER
For police officers on the ground it was the Albanians’ ability to use brutal violence, especially against their own trafficked women, which shook the underworld sex trade.
Paul Holmes, a former police inspector and head of Scotland Yard’s sex trafficking unit, described how the Albanians’ brutality shocked his team of officers.
He said: “With the Albanians they could leave you perplexed as to why they were using such levels of violence on women when they didn’t need to.
“It was almost a status or a power trip. We had stories of women who were severely injured for no reason whatsoever – and in a crazy way.
Stories of women who were severely injured for no reason whatsoever – and in a crazy way
Paul Holmes, ex-head of Scotland Yard sex trafficking unit
“Most of the organised crime groups running women in prostitution would inflict violence on women in what we would call a ‘pimp beating’ so any injuries didn’t affect her sale-ability.
“Beaten on the torso which could be covered by a basque or beaten on the lower legs which could be covered by stockings.
“But the Albanians were just handing out beatings all over – they were very, very violent.
“The London sex trade is such a huge market – our fear then was that they would say ‘we might as well replicate the same model but in other areas of crime’ – the obvious one being narcotics.”
End Of The Line
Cocaine use is reaching epidemic levels in Britain, with the UK branded the ‘Coke capital’ of Europe.
More than one in ten British adults are believed to have tried it, and with young people the numbers are even worse.
A staggering one in five 16 – 24-year-olds have taken cocaine in the last year.
That’s why The Sun has launched its End Of The Line campaign, calling for more awareness around the drug.
Cocaine use can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and paranoia, while doctors have linked the rise in cheap, potent coke to an increase in suicide rates.
People from all walks of life, from builders and labourers to celebrities like Jeremy McConnell – who is backing our campaign – have fallen foul of its lure.
It’s an issue which is sweeping the UK and, unless its tackled now, means a mental health crisis is imminent.
In 1999, asylum applicants categorised under Yugoslavia (Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro) were the highest at 17 per cent of 91,200, and then eight per cent of 98,900 in 2000.
Tony Smith, former director general of the UK’s Border Force, explained how immigration officials believed Albanians were claiming to be Kosovans on a large scale during that period.
He said: “It was record numbers and a lot of them were Kosovans, or at least said they were.
“The immigration service were completely swamped at Dover, getting ferry-loads of these, even camping on the beaches at Dover.
Probably the biggest case of nationality switching we had seen
Tony Smith, former director general of UK Border Force
“We didn’t have the time or even computers back then to process them properly. It was probably the biggest case of nationality switching we’d seen, that was the beginning.
“It’s really hard to dis-prove that stuff, then more likely they will put down roots making removals very difficult and they stay by default.”
The brutally violent criminals, trading on their reputation as veterans of the Balkan Wars, soon moved from smuggling people to guns and drugs into the UK.
In Europe they became allies of the Turkish and Italian gangs as enforcers, hitmen and traffickers of heroin from Afghanistan.
INTERNATIONAL DRUG TRADERS
Then they began dealing cannabis by growing “potent strains” of the drug – even using slave labour here in the UK.
Police sources have described how in the early 2000s in London they fought against Jamaican and Chinese drug gangs for control of the illegal market.
Now they have moved on to penetrate all levels of the UK’s £5billion cocaine trade – from an army of dial-a-drug street dealers to kingpin wholesalers controlling imports from South America and northern Europe.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned Albanian gangsters pose a “significant threat” and that they are quick to use “violence, particularly around enforcing the drug trade”.
Dozens of Albanian drug lords have been arrested and jailed across Britain in recent years.
Recently, an Albanian gang in Tunbridge Wells were said to have a “24/7 call centre” in London to service the Kent town.
The case comes as Tory MP Michael Gove admitted taking the drug and a Brussels report warned Britain has become the cocaine capital of Europe.
A report from Brussels’s top anti-drugs agency earlier this month also warned that Britain has become the cocaine capital of Europe amid an “Uberisation” of the trade.
The Sun has launched its End Of The Line campaign to raise awareness of the devastating impact even casual cocaine use can have on mental health. In fact, doctors have warned a flood of cheap and potent cocaine into the UK is fuelling suicide rates.
Albanians now make up the second highest total of foreign nationals in UK jails at 760, 433 of who are in for drugs offences – just a handful behind Poland on 787 – despite only tens of thousands living in the UK compared to almost a million Polish.
Albanian gang snared
An Albanian gang were said to have a “24/7 call centre” in London to service to Tunbridge Wells.
The court heard the gang used a “simple and consistent” business model to sell drugs.
Detectives managed to trace the drug lines to Deptford, South East London – 35miles from Tunbridge Wells – where gang member Rigels Hadashaj, 20, was based.
At other times, the numbers were operating from an address in Romford, East London or from Surrey Quays, South East London.
Cops tracked the gang for several weeks with undercover officers buying from them.
Rigels Hadashaj, 20, Arlind Palushi, 19, Fatos Metalia, 24, Izmir Basha, 24, Nelson Aliaj, 28, Ervish Dervishi, 23, Xhesil Vucaj, 21, Alfred Gashi, 19, and Marius Kuci, 24, will be sentenced later this month for conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Others such as the street-dealing Hellbanianz gang have achieved notoriety by brazenly posting snaps on social media of bundles of drugs money and flash cars.
Police sources have warned that Albanians illegally flooding into the UK have provided a fresh, ready-made workforce for the crime groups.
Known as the Mafia Shqiptare, the fiercely loyal and vengeful groups work by their traditional codes of “besa” – to keep promises – and “kanun” – the ancient blood feud laws.
Their stranglehold of the cocaine market has meant the drug is now at its cheapest for almost 30 years and purity across Europe is also the highest for a decade.
They have become partners of the cocaine runners in the Italian ‘Ndrangheta and Latin American suppliers.
Albanian gangs expert Dr. Jana Arsovska, of John Jay College in New York, said: “There is a shared history with Italy, especially as [Albania] was once under Italian control.
They have been moving into cocaine in a big way and built direct ties with suppliers in Latin America
Dr Jana Arsovska, Albanian gangs expert of John Jay College, New York
“In the past Albanians would work for the Italians, carrying out low-level jobs or as hitmen until they were able to establish themselves more.
“Then they had money to buy drugs and began dealing with the Turks to ship heroin from Afghanistan through Albania.
“In the past five to six years they have been moving into cocaine in a big way and built direct ties with suppliers in Latin America.”
The gangs have been able to reduce the price of cocaine by buying direct from South America for up to £5,500-a-kilo – while European wholesalers charge four times as much.
Albanians have already located their members close to some of Europe’s largest ports – such as Rotterdam and Antwerp – to corrupt port officials and control the cocaine trade.
The UK is the second largest trading partner for both Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, and Antwerp, the second largest, with the latter exchanging 16million tonnes of cargo each year.
SHIPPING COCAINE INTO UK
Shipments of goods from South America are routed through the ports with the NCA identifying Belgium and Holland as key areas of activity for Albanian groups.
Goods, hiding cocaine shipments, are then moved on to UK ports such as Harwich, Folkestone and Immingham, Lincs, on the east coast and removed with the help of corrupt port workers.
Tony Saggers, the former head of drugs threat and intelligence at the NCA, wrote in January how a No-Deal Brexit could bring much of the £1billion wholesale market onshore.
The UK’s large consumption of bananas from Central and South America, 20 per cent of the EU total, has been a key method for drug gangs hiding cocaine in UK-bound containers.
In Antwerp authorities saw a ten-fold increase in cocaine seizures to 40 tonnes in 2017 compared with 2013 and cited “pineapples and bananas as a key method for concealment.”
Pineapples and bananas a key method for concealment
Antwerp port authority
Mr Saggers wrote that the potential change in routes of containers direct to the UK could lead to an “increase in the presence of Western Balkan and Latin American OCGs (organised crime groups), the primary controllers of the large shipments of cocaine destined for the UK.”
The Sun has learnt of one Albanian gang based in Kingston, South West London, which runs its operation from a string of apartments located in the area, as well as houses in Manchester and Bradford, West Yorks.
On top of cocaine, the Kingston gang are also understood to sell cannabis from the “grow houses” located in the north of England.
A source close to the gang told how they are led by a flashy 33-year-old Albanian who is pictured on a beach with a cigar in social media pictures.
The group possess a batch of fraudulent Bulgarian passports and papers which grants them visa-free travel across the EU.
One gang in Manchester led by gang boss Mevlan Gjeta was heavily involved in street dealing as well as moving large amounts of cocaine around the region.
Gjeta, then 33, was jailed for eight years in 2016 along with 19 other gang members, who had been arming themselves with guns.
Undercover police were able to buy drugs from the dealers to help expose the gang.
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A police intelligence source said: “They were very much wholesalers but that’s changing, the more Albanians are here, the more of a network they are creating across the country.
“It lends itself to retail supply. Very few organised crime groups do end-to-end supply – somewhere generally there is a disconnect.
“The questions is are Albanians pushing themselves down this route deliberately because there is even more money to be made at street price mark-ups? It’s dangerous exposure if so.”
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A mother runs with her three children in Kraijna, Yugoslavia, during the country’s wars[/caption]