kY ESHTE NJE SHKRIM QE DO TJU TRONDISI KUR TA LEXONI, POR PER DERIMSA KETA MONSTA TRAFIKANTESH TE JENE GJALLE, GAZETAT TABLOID TE LONDRES APO KUDO KANE GOJE TE FLASIN.
A new brand of fear
By Steve Boggan, Evening Standard
When Nadia had finally had enough of being used, abused, sold for sex and brutalised day after day, she decided to stand up to her Albanian pimp - a man who saw her less as a human being than as a simple lucrative investment. It was the worst decision she ever made.
The pimp, part of a growing network of gangsters from eastern Europe, was furious when she said she would no longer sell her body for him. He was making up to £2,000 a week from each of the girls in his brothel - what would happen if they, too, decided to make a stand? In his mind, the answer was simple; he had to make an example of Nadia.
He would not kill or even seriously beat the girl. He would make a walking advertisement of her, a warning to his other girls not to step out of line. So, calmly, methodically, he took a knife and cut a neat chequerboard pattern across her face.
Nadia is not the girl's real name. She is in a safe house in the south of England, and police will give out no more details about the incident in the hope that they will eventually be able to convict the pimp. But the prospects are not good. Albanians don't talk.
Sadly, the brutality meted out to Nadia is not unusual in the world of the Albanian criminal. This is a world peopled by tough, relentless men from the most inhospitable parts of Europe's poorest country; men whose loyalties lie with primitive regional clans; men who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
So it was with a rising sense of alarm that law enforcement specialists heard this week that a group of Albanians was allegedly behind the plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham. Already spreading like a cancer through the lucrative trades in drugs and sex, were they now bringing kidnap and extortion - crimes practised regularly in their homeland - to the UK?
"I had two thoughts when I heard about the plot," said one detective with experience of dealing with the eastern European gangs. "First, I thought, 'Of all people, you certainly wouldn't want to get kidnapped by the Albanians'. Second, I thought that if any Albanian crime gang decided to kidnap someone like Victoria Beckham, it would be very unlikely that we would ever see her again. This ethnic grouping is currently the most feared and dangerous in London. And its power base is growing."
The growth of the Albanian criminal fraternity has been causing unease among police forces since around 1995 when, along with genuine asylum seekers from Kosovo, some young men entered the country with their sights on the rich pickings of the capital's drugs and vice scenes. Since then, they have taken more than 80 per cent of London's sex industry - and experts estimate that about 75 per cent of all heroin sold in the UK will pass through Albanian hands at some point on its journey to the junkie on the street.
So how have the Albanians come to be the fastest-growing crime threat in London?
To find out, it is necessary to go back to 1991 and the collapse of communism. With its fall there was an explosion in prostitution, extortion and drug trafficking in Albania as the rule of law fell apart. Often, recently unemployed members of the Sigurimi (the Albanian secret police) would be only too willing to help the criminals - after all, they no longer had a pension to look forward to.
As political chaos ensued, tens of thousands of people fled the country - in one week alone, in March 1991, more than 20,000 refugees arrived in Italy. About 4,000 were allowed to stay, a figure that gave the criminal element in Albania a foothold in western Europe at a time when heroin distribution was being severely disrupted by the war in Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia had been a major conduit for the movement of heroin coming through Turkey. Albanian gangs were only too pleased to offer an alternative route through their country, establishing convoys smuggling drugs, arms and other contraband through the ports of VlorΠand Durres and across the Straits of Otranto into Italy.
According to Gangland Today, by the crime writer James Morton, the Albanians had control of 70 per cent of the drug trade in Germany and Switzerland by 1995. In criminal terms, it was a meteoric rise.
By this time, an influx of Kosovar Albanians had already arrived in the UK. Within this mostly lawabiding grouping were sharp and ruthless men, the vanguard of a criminal invasion that was to take London by storm.
According to a report by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Albanians have staged a bloodless coup in Soho in the past 18 months - buying out the owners of strip joints, sex shops and brothels. A Standard investigation in July showed that girls from eastern Europe were being tricked or kidnapped and smuggled into Britain, where they were forced to work as prostitutes after being sold and resold to Albanian pimps for about £5,000. It is a trade in slavery that shames Britain and Albania. "This is a terrible problem for Albanians," said Veslemoy Naerland, programme manager at the International Save The Children Alliance in Tirana, Albania's capital.
"Many girls come from poor families and see no prospects for themselves. Then someone will offer them a job - or the chance to marry someone in the UK, where they can live a better life - so they go.
"But they are usually smuggled in on false papers and there is no husband when they get there. Their papers are taken away from them and they are threatened into prostitution. The men who do this are very violent and sometimes pay the women nothing at all - so they are like slaves.
"It is difficult to be accurate with figures but we believe there are around 10,000 girls who have been forced into prostitution around Europe. And, of those, 20 to 30 per cent are underage."
The Beckhams: alleged target for Albanian gangsters
In some of the remote parts of north and east Albania, there have been reports of girls avoiding school because they fear they could be kidnapped if they go outdoors. Some of the prostitutes that have come to the attention of Save The Children have been as young as 13.
"Ordinary Albanians are ashamed of their image abroad," said Ms Naerland. "People would like to see something done but it has become a big business with big money to be made."
The strength of the Albanian gangs lies in their inclusiveness. Often, gang members will be from the same clan back home, so betrayal and infiltration are almost unheard of. Many come from towns such as Fier, Sarande, Vlorά Gjirokastβ and Shkoder, where policing is absent and law is replaced with blood feuds and personal score-settling.
In much the same way as the Mafia has its law of Omerta - or silence - the Albanian gangsters are governed by a code of honour called "Besa".
The similarities end there. The Albanians choose a looser structure, similar to that favoured by the Russian Mafia. At the top is a Leadership Council that passes instructions down to the families controlling particular patches.
The head of each family, or the "krye", will lead an executive committee, or "bajrack", on which sit underbosses known as "kryetar". The bajrack decides what business is to be undertaken and filters the instructions down. Often, however, the lines of communication break down. "The Albanians are second only to the Chechens in terms of fearsome reputation. But, on a grander scale, they could never take on the Italians and the Russians because they are not good at organisation," said Dr Mark Galeotti, head of the European Crime Unit at Keele University.
"In the past, they were known for working for other people, like the Turkish heroin gangs. But, more recently, they have shown a desire to work for themselves.
"They first came on to our radar around 1986 or 1987, when a few became involved in the distribution of heroin for the Turks. When numbers of their own community arrived in Britain in 1995, that gave them a foothold and made expansion inevitable. Since then, they've consolidated, grown and now they're diversifying."
In spite of their impact on the criminal landscape, Dr Galeotti estimates there are relatively few hardened Albanian gangsters in London.
"In terms of serious criminals, you may be looking at numbers only in their dozens. If you add to that hangers-on, and Albanians who work with them only occasionally, there are probably a few hundred.
"What has made them so successful is the clan system. There may not be many of them but, because they are from the same families or villages, it is impossible for other people to get inside their circle. It would be very difficult for undercover police officers to infiltrate.
"These are hardy, uncompromising people who have a reputation for being tough and for not cracking under interrogation. They can be relied upon not to talk."
Already, the Albanian gangs have been muttering darkly in their favoured cafČs in Barking and Hornsey, possibly plotting for what could be a major shift of power in London's gangland.
Many have affiliations with the Kosovo Liberation Army - either through membership or by selling the KLA military equipment - so securing weapons is not a problem. Who they would use them on is rapidly becoming clear. In July, a shoot-out between Albanians and Turks on Wood Green High Road was described by police as being like "the gunfight at the OK Corral". Fifteen shots were exchanged between groups of men inside and outside a car dealership as passers-by ducked for cover. It was the latest in a line of shoot-outs, apparently over an unpaid debt connected to drug trafficking.
"There is a lot of concern among officers that we could be about to see some serious violence among two groups not known for backing down - the Albanians and the Turks," said one detective.
"There is a lot at stake, and some of these people are at the extreme end of the capacity to commit violence."
Already, there is evidence that Albanian mobsters have begun to put down roots in Glasgow and Manchester as part of what could be a nationwide expansion programme. It may be only a matter of time before their rivals decide that enough is enough.
"It could go one of two ways," said Dr Galeotti. "Either the Albanians find they are no longer the new kids on the block and some other group - hungrier and more violent than them - comes in to take over. Or they decide to get themselves entrenched, hold on to what they've got and then climb further up the crime ladder themselves.
"Either course of action will result in violence. How much and against whom will depend on whether the Albanians decide to expand their empire or hold on to what they've got."