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OSCE Official in Macedonia Arrested for Drug Smuggling in Italy

July 3, 2006

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The phones were silent at the OSCE’s Skopje’s headquarters this afternoon as staff grappled with a new and unexpected problem: the sensational news that one of the mission’s own high officials, Georgian national Zurab Lomashvili, had been arrested for drug trafficking while abroad.

Russia’s Interfax reported yesterday that the career diplomat and previous deputy head of the Georgian Permanent Mission to the OSCE, was arrested by Italian authorities- who accuse him of trying to smuggle 20 kilos of heroin into their country from Albania.

The timing could not be worse for the OSCE, self-appointed guardian of the moral order wherever it goes, as it now prepares to monitor Macedonia’s elections in only 2 days. In a vicious irony, the OSCE just two weeks held a workshop for combating organized crime.

Even if the Lomashvili case represents little more than a case of one “bad apple,” the embarassing incident is bound to sully the international organization’s reputation as a benevolent and law-abiding force for good. And it is bound to invite renewed scrutiny and questions: with whom was the Georgian operating in order to transit drugs from the Caucasus to the West via Macedonia and Albania? Did his pseudo-diplomatic status as an OSCE official provide ‘cover’ for illicit acts? And, most fundamentally, how high does the corruption go?

The long-standing issue of the international community’s indiscretions in countries under their occupation now returns to the focus, though it will no doubt soon be buried under the hysteria of ‘fair and free’ elections on July 5.Nevertheless, staff ranging from military to diplomatic to non-governmental have all been implicated, in the Balkans alone, of everything from human trafficking to murder. This sordid side of international peacekeeping missions is naturally suppressed by the occupying powers, and the mixed nationalities of the offenders shows that local exploitation is open to all comers.

It remains to be seen to what extent the OSCE drug-running case involves local Albanian mafia activity. The Italian government has gained incresing intelligence capacities following several successful crackdowns on coordinated mafia groups operating in Albania and Italy. Operation Harem, for example, concluded in December 2005 with over 80 arrests in Italy, Albania, Kosovo, Croatia, Ukraine and Germany. Large quantities of drugs were also seized, said the December report, which added:

“…the network allegedly forced eastern European women into prostitution in Italy and trafficked drugs as well as guns destined for the Ndrangheta organised crime group in Calabria, southern Italy.

‘The operation delivers a serious blow to an Italo-Albanian organisation involved in the trade of human beings and the traffic of drugs and narcotics,’ Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said in a statement.”

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