Police arrest 18 underworld figures after prosecution issues 32 arrest warrants — although the escape of some of the ‘biggest fish’ in the world of gang crime raises suspicions of leaks from within the operation.
Head of SPAK Arben Kraja, (right) and General DIrector of Police Gledis Nano, speaking at a press conference in Tirana, 19 May 2022. Photo: LSA
Albania’s Special Prosecution SPAK on Thursday issued some 32 arrest orders for some of the most notorious underworld figures in the country, following investigations into murders and attempted murders.
“We have identified the existence of eight structured criminal groups with their main activity in Tirana, Durres and Elbasan,” SPAK head Arben Kraja told a press conference. He described the groups as “very violent” and “highly organised”.
“The investigation found out that these criminal groups were able to pay large sums for executing their adversaries,” Kraja said.
Some 18 criminal episodes that had been under investigation separately were joined in a single file.
The operation was welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama.
“Today’s SPAK and State Police operation is the most comprehensive example of strengthening law enforcement agencies and of a strong determination to hit organised crime by the force of the law,” Rama said on Twitter.
Prosecutors appeared to make a breakthrough following the arrest of Nuredin Dumani, 35, who was arrested on March 29 following an attempted murder in which Dumani, who was on the run from police for murder, was injured.
Police raided some 28 homes and offices using specialized forces while 18 people were arrested. About half of them were arrested while already in prison for other reasons, however, and some notorious underworld figures weren’t found. One police officer has been arrested for abuse of power in relation to the investigation.
Queried about the missing suspects, Kraja said they have no reason to worry about leaks while declining to provide more information due to the “secrecy of the operation”.
Among those missing was Suel Cela from Elbasan, who had been repeatedly investigated in the past about suspected crimes but who managed to escape.
In September 2017, Cela was accused of hitting a police car that blocked the gate of his property. More than the actual incident, the event caused shock as footage from security cameras showed how special police forces stopped and didn’t follow through, meaning that the town effectively has no-go zones where police do not dare to enter. Cela was judged not guilty in court.
Elvis Martinaj, known as the casino king, who was investigated following a shootout in a luxury club in Tirana, also managed to get free.
Elbasan has a long history of revenge murders and is considered one of the crime hotspots in the country. It is also the place where crime gangs often interfere in elections, with competing groups lending support to various parties.
In March, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Aqif Rakipi, a local politician, for involvement in organised crime.
“Rakipi has long been involved in organised crime and is closely associated with one OCG, within which he exerted political influence, including through corruption,” the US announcement stated.
This is not the first time that prosecutors tried to crack notorious criminal organisations. Several previous attempts were made to put behind the bars some of those targeted by this latest operation, but failed.
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