TIRANA, Albania - Organized crime syndicates in the Balkans, spawned when communism collapsed a decade ago, are thriving on illegal trade in drugs and sex slaves. The final destination for much of the goods and services is Western Europe. The trade, which yields billions of dollars each year, doesn’t just pay for the mansions and yachts of wealthy traffickers. It also has a political purpose — supporting the purchase of arms for Albanian rebels.
Nearly two years after NATO troops drove Serb forces from this region, rebels are believed to still be skimming profits from drug and sex slave trafficking to fund illegal arms purchases for ethnic Albanian rebel movements.This trafficking has allowed both the Kosovo Liberation Army in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and the National Liberation Army in Macedonia to be outfitted with the latest in rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and night-vision goggles.
The rise of organized crime syndicates flourished following the collapse of the communist system and frontier controls throughout most of the Balkan peninsula, resulting in lawlessness and civil conflict. The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together.
In many areas they work with the complicity of police and customs officials. The U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2001 notes that “instances of corruption and involvement of police in trafficking in persons occurred on the local level. At least two law enforcement officials have been dismissed for accepting bribes from traffickers.”
Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials.
Corrupt judges and prosecutors also frequently help arrested criminals.
On April 18, the Albanian state security service acknowledged the problem, saying in a statement that a “dangerous aspect of the growing power of the criminal groups is their ability to establish links with individuals in the top state administration offices and with politicians.”
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