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Serbia

Capital Belgrade
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 381
Mobile Codes 60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67
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Currency Dinar (1EUR = 101RSD)
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Population 7.3 million (excl. Kosovo)
Language Serbian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

The Adriatic Connection: Mafia Links from Italy to the Western Balkans

By Matteo Albertini in Milan

Editor’s note: with Western Balkan governments seeking to demonstrate their commitment to EU accession reforms, major steps are being taken to promote transparency implement rule of law, and tackle organized crime. The present investigation discusses the past, present and future of the latter in the region, in light of the evolution of (and cooperation with) Italy’s major mafia syndicates.

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Joining the European Union is, without doubt, the main goal of every Balkan country not already part of the bloc. In the last few years, many requirements have been met by several aspiring states; Croatia and Montenegro are now official candidate countries, while status may be given this year to Albania and especially Serbia – the latter having now fulfilled one key requirement when it arrested former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic last week. Macedonia has made many necessary reforms, with the main obstacle remaining being something completely unique and unrelated to the typical EU accession package (that is, the name issue with Greece).

Among the key political, economic and social goals required for getting into the EU, the most problematic have often been full collaboration with The Hague Tribunal and international police, and the willing prosecution of organized crime- which, in the Balkans, refers especially to human, drugs and arms trafficking.

Perceptions of Old-School Balkan Mafia: Warlords, ‘Nationalists,’ and Territorial Control

Many stereotypes linger about the binomial relation between mafia as a concept and the Balkans. During the wars of the 1990s, these stereotypes became part of that orientalistic interpretation of the war portrayed by many Western media outlets: the Balkans was depicted as an indistinct area, a land of war and hatred, a region led by despots and inhabited by crooks and people who were, generally, desperate sorts.

This public perception must be the reason why, paradoxically, the role of mafia and organized crime – and their connections in finance and politics – are often underestimated or “taken for granted” by journalistic and academic analysis concerning Southeast Europe. One thus might note (with some despair) that news regarding people and institutions involved in organized crime affairs are more and more being confined to judicial reporting or specialist publications.

An article published on December 21, 2010 by Montenegrin weekly Monitor aptly depicts the image surrounding the predecessors of today’s Balkan organized crime groups. During and after the wars of the 1990s, in most former Yugoslav countries, public power was understood to be based on a mixture of “kleptocracy, organized crime and alleged patriotism;” in that period, state officials in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Pristina, Podgorica, Skopje, Belgrade and so on, transferred large amounts of national resources into their own hands and into the hands of their local elites.

Propaganda was their principal ally, the story goes, and their weapon, spread by controlled and accommodating media, and certified by integrated intellectuals, historians, academics: all actively involved in the construction of new national stories. This propaganda was so capillary that its traces can be seen still today, in the history taught at schools and in the language spoken in everyday life.

A machine devoted to transmitting a precise story: leaders were acting to save the country and its population from their enemies, with anybody who denounced these crimes actually a criminal himself; as a consequence the people, impoverished and frightened, attested through their ballots the rule of these leaders.

During these years, criminal organization, mafia groups and local clans acquired a central role in supporting political leaders, doing the dirty work and profiting from smuggling, black market, drug and human traffic across the renewed Balkan state borders.

Belgrade at the turn of the millennium was a bombed city transformed into a battlefield for gangs, where bosses and smugglers went to wash dirty money financing the building of new apartment blocks and commercial centers in Novi Beograd.  The leading faction was then the feared Zemun clan, located in the so-named suburb north of Belgrade. The group’s connections with the army and the government (pre- and post Milosevic) became clear after the assassination of Socialist Serbia’s former president Ivan Stambolić in 2000, and of the acting prime minister, Zoran Đinđić, in 2003.

As became clear, many members of this organization were part of a disparate but well-sponsored section of the army: the special operation unit (Jedinica za specijalne operacije), also know as Red Berets, who merged many paramilitary units that fought in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Amongst them were the remnants of Arkan’s Tigers, who regrouped after their leader’s murder on 2000. The leader of the Zemun clan, Dušan Spasojević, was killed by Serbian police two weeks after Djindjic’s death.

Obviously, this situation could not last. The fall of the leaderships that lead the war, as Milosevic’s SDS in Serbia and Tudjman’s HDZ hardliners in Croatia, unveiled the importance of mafia in the social and political order of these new states.

A Gentler New Face for Balkan Organized Crime: Lessons Learned from Italy

Only during the middle of the last decade did something begin to change, together with a broader collaboration between local and foreign police officers and more transparency, throwing a light on what had survived hidden under the ashes of the war. (Even in Bulgaria, where no war had occurred, organized crime became less visibly violent, following several high-profile assassinations).

This change was sensible for two reasons: on the one hand, the arrest and prosecution of many war criminals often was supplemented with their indictment for drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as for goods “unofficially” acquired during the war, with the compliance of police and government officials.

On the other hand, the institutional stabilization of Balkan states gave inquirers more freedom in investigating those relations between politics, finance and organized crime that had lurked for years behind the official affairs of state.

Especially in Serbia, some decisions marked a firm line: the killing of Spasojevic, the disbanding of the Red Berets and the arrest of more than 10,000 criminals for a time beheaded local mafia and disclosed its relations with the army and politics. But these police operations by no means eradicated organized crime in Serbia.

In the Western Balkans, organized crime survived by changing its shape and methods- just as the Italian mafia had been forced to do during the 1990s. In Italy, the capos came to understand that public bombings and audacious killings in broad daylight could have a boomerang effect: these acts ended up arousing public anger, and brought increased attention from the police. This unwanted visibility in turn made doing deals more difficult, forced potential allies to become enemies, and increased the chances of being prosecuted before an approving public.

The last major act related to the old kind of mafia behavior in the Western Balkans happened in Croatia in 2008, an act that also represents in many ways a turning point: the killing of the Croatian journalist Ivo Pukanić, murdered by a bomb in the very center of Zagreb.

In less than six months, Serbian police arrested the supposed perpetrators: their leader was Sreten Jočić, a.k.a ‘Joca Amsterdam,’ a businessman and alleged kingpin of drug smuggling. Police accused him of having received 1.5 million euros from unknown parties to kill the journalist. Once arrested, Joca claimed innocence, accusing the “high spheres” of Balkan governments of using him as a scapegoat to cover up for the alleged deeper connections between politics and criminal organizations.

The trial in Belgrade is going on now, and it has already featured some “coupes de theater.” The suspect behind the murder, Serbian (but Geneva-based) businessman Stanko Subotic or ‘Cane’ (one of the richest men in Eastern Europe), gave a controversial interview for the Croatian magazine Jutarnij list, in which he supported  Jočić’s claim, accusing top leaders of Serbia’s Democratic Party, such as Vojislav Kostunica’s entourage. Subotic was arrested in Russia in 2009, but will freely attend his trial and his extradition after a generous bail. However, he was not arrested for the death of Pukanic: he was actually arrested for alleged involvement in international cigarette smuggling said to have occurred back in the 1990s.

Mafia Evolution: the Switch to Low-Profile

Before exploring this subject further, it would be wise to consider the profiles of the alleged protagonists of the “Pukanic affair”: businessmen, politicians and lawyers. The time of Arkan and Legija has passed: if we are looking for the prototype of the current mafia leaders in the Balkans, we should not seek warlords who built their fortune conducting massacres and robbery during the conflict in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

In those countries where changes at the top made contacts with power more and more difficult, mafia survived submerging in the society, trying to become “invisible,” to gain freedom for its trafficking operations. This is why the Zemun clan survives still today, and is still able to act beyond Serbian territory- as was quite possibly attested in the spectacular 2009 Vastberga helicopter robbery in Sweden – in which armed men used a stolen helicopter and decoy explosives to drop down on top of a cash depot and make off with some $5.3 million.

If Serbian Interior Minister Dačić (who gave testimony for an Associate Press interview in 2009) is to be believed, the clan was behind the Stockholm job. The daring, Hollywood-style operation unfolded with military-style precision, and involved a number of participants involved with everything from acquiring SIM cards, explosives and machine guns to staging a traffic accident and placing false bombs by police helicopters to thwart a response, as a detailed report from Sweden’s ‘The Local’ explains.

According to this article, seven of the 10 men charged (several, Serbian) were found guilty after the heist. It also came out the Serbian intelligence had warned their Swedish counterparts several weeks earlier that plans for a major criminal operation were in the works.

Balkan Leaders under Scrutiny

In December 2010, two important news stories broke that can help explain the current situation in the region. On 14 December, Swiss member of the Council of Europe Dick Marty presented a CoE report claiming to prove that Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, had been the head of a human organs traffic web during the 1998-99 war while a top figure in the KLA. Although Marty lacks investigative powers and the document was – as expected – denounced roundly by the Albanians, it did come after the revelations were initially made in the memoirs of Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor at the Hague Tribunal. While Thaci remained in his position, the accusations have created new diplomatic tensions and sparked demands (especially, from Belgrade) for a full investigation.

A week later, on 21 December, something much quieter but perhaps more significant happened: Milo Đukanović resigned as prime minister of Montenegro. Many observers attested that Đukanović had been quietly forced to do so, because of international pressure over long-standing cigarette-smuggling allegations. However, a trial against him had concluded in 2009 because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity (the documents surrounding the investigation have been published, in Italian). However, according to the prosecutor, Giuseppe Scelsi, the participation of the then-Montenegrin president in the affair was clear.

In the lengthy Italian investigation, two names repeatedly appeared: that of Subotic, and that of Brano Micunović, the alleged leader of the “Belgrade faction” of this new criminal organization based in Montenegro. By the end of the inquiry, the Italian weekly, Espresso, reported that the Office of the Prosecutor in Naples and Bari had put together 4,000 pages of evidence against them, including recorded conversations and testimonies.

While institutional stabilization, enforcement of police and international cooperation led to new arrests in Serbia and in Croatia, the center of mafia trade in the Balkans moved to more quiet and disposable countries, like Kosovo and Montenegro.

However, the curtain hanging over these two countries is just starting to be lifted. The tiny Dinaric Republic, after being the center of tobacco smuggling during the war years, became well known before its independence in 2006 as a transit hub for cocaine and heroin, a free space for a new kind of organized criminals able to use the state machine and public finance in order to launder money acquired from human and drug trafficking.

Major Operations Begin: The DEA Steps In

This new wave of Balkan mafia was the target of a recent investigation by the American DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), which began in 2009 in cooperation with local police and intelligence services from several countries (but mainly those of Greece and Serbia). Its codename was, ironically, “Guerrieros balcanicos” (“Balkan Warrior”), a name that stressed the connection between the mafia warlords of the nineties and the mafia managers of the following decade.

In an unprecedented (and once unthinkable) joint operation, the DEA and Serbian intelligence (BIA) confiscated 2.8 tons of cocaine in international waters off of South America, on October 17, 2009. The drugs had a street value of $170 million. According to the Financial Times, the operation also involved the Argentine and Uruguayan police. Nevertheless, “the gangsters allegedly in charge of the shipment came from Serbia and its coastal neighbour, Montenegro.”

Serbia’s cooperation in reining in a vast criminal enterprise based in the Balkans earned praise from its American counterparts. “The Serbian authorities did an outstanding job,” stated Russ Benson, DEA regional director for Europe and West Africa.” He further noted that continuing investigations would focus on “several major Balkan-based organisations with connections to numerous countries… while the Balkan area is used as a significant path for cocaine importation, shipments could be acquired by those groups and go directly into the EU.”

This historic joint investigation highlighted the existence of a vast international drug smuggling ring, with its operations leading from Uruguay to the Balkans. Media reports claimed that it was directed by members of the Zemun clan: as reported by B92 on 21 January 2010, the DEA identified two ‘hot’ names at the top of the pyramid: Darko Šarić, a Montenegrin-born Serbian businessmen alleged to be well connected with the Montenegrin government, and Goran Sokovic, who was arrested by the police on February 9, 2010 in Pljevlja in the north of Montenegro- the hometown of both men.

Immediately after the operation, however, Belgrade was stand-offish: “…suspecting Montenegrin state collusion with the Saric network,” reported the Financial Times. Serbian prosecutors “refused to share their files with the neighbouring state during the investigative phase…. ‘Delivering the evidence at this stage could jeopardise our work,’” stated Miljko Radisavljevic, Serbia’s chief prosecutor for organised crime. Fears that political protection for the suspect from the highest levels in Montenegro could scupper the whole investigation motivated this reticence.

Citing the Serbian interior minister, the Financial Times report stated that “Mr Saric’s group has earned an estimated €1 billion from cocaine trafficking since 2000,” with a similar amount of money having been laundered by all of Serbia’s crime syndicates. The Šarić group was claimed to have owned approximately €100 million in assets, particularly in real estate and cars, seized by the Serbian government after the anti-narcotics operation.

Serbian concerns over political influence in the case appeared to be quite legitimate, as things turned out. Sokovic was released in December 2010, after the Montenegro state prosecutor decided that there was not enough evidence to prosecute them. Đukanović – then still prime minister – commented that since the Montenegrin constitution forbids the extradition of a citizen of the country, he agreed with the decision of the prosecutor. Monitor reported also that Darko Šarić, who had been born in Pljevlja, requested Montenegrin citizenship just a few days before receiving the international arrest warrant. Đukanović then said, in an interview for B92, that there were no reasons to refuse his request (though he had previously sought Serbian citizenship at the time Montenegro became independent in 2006).

Something weird seemed to be happening in this small Balkan country: not only did a chief of state support the freedom of an internationally wanted fugitive, but also suggested a possible safe place for him to hide.

In approaching this matter, the first question that must be posed is an historical one: how did the Balkan mafia, in the period between 2003 and 2011, become one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Europe, growing strong enough to control routes between Europe and South America, and to warrant the intense attention, and ultimately a crackdown, from the world’s most powerful anti-narcotics service, the American DEA?

To answer these questions, we must return to the other side of the Adriatic, and see what happened to Italian organized crime in the meanwhile.

The Fragmentation of Italian Organized Crime and a New Alliance

The profile of Italian organized crime, as has been mentioned, changed during the 1990s, following a trend that has been witnessed during the following decade, in the practice of Balkan mafia groups. Yet first we have to specify what is meant by the general terms “Italian mafia” or “Italian organized crime.”

In Italy, organized crime syndicates are divided into at least four major organizations: the Sicilian Mafia (or “Cosa Nostra,” meaning ‘our thing’), the Neapolitan Camorra, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita.

Descriptions of the divisions and the relations between these four organizations can be found in periodical reports issued by the Italian DIA (Department of Anti-mafia Investigations). Twenty years ago, the Sicilian mafia found itself being challenged for control of drug routes to the United States by newcomers like the Chinese, Vietnamese and Puerto Rican smugglers. The mafia thus made an operative deal with the Camorra, a group from Naples, by “subcontracting” to them the distribution of heroin and cocaine in Italy. Both groups maintained their independence and their features, but shared their market.

Trying to defend their interests and to find new routes for drug supply, the Camorra became one of the principal interlocutors of the Serbo-Montenegrin mafia during the nineties. But they were not the only ones. Sacra Corona Unita emerged in the 1980s, when many Mafia and Camorra bosses were jailed in Apulian prisons. Because of this, many Apulian clan leaders in the early 1990s acquired the permission and the necessary know-how to conduct smuggling of cigarettes across the Adriatic.

This cooperation went forward, enforced by the contemporaneous fragmentation or “flaking” of the Italian Mafia, as a consequence of the police’s beheading of Mafia and Camorra leaders. Arrests, stricter laws and better international collaboration complicated the job for Italian organized crime. It needed allies, and found them in the criminal organizations and in some cases the governments of young Balkan states: tobacco smuggling showed the potential of the eastern shores of the Adriatic to become, for both the Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita, an area of growth and expansion.

This agreement allowed criminal organizations to participate side-by-side in trafficking and other activities in various countries and continents, acting just like an international corporation. This was a structure originally used by the classic predecessor, the Sicilian-American Mafia: a well-organized, effective and bureaucratic organization capable of handle drug supplies from South America, but also highly complex money laundering schemes in Switzerland and northern Italy.

This new kind of transnational mafia reunited Italian groups, and brought them together into (what is called in the DEA report) a “Balkan Holy Alliance.” It put the routes of cocaine distribution in Europe and the contacts with Colombian narcotics producers into the hand of Serbian and Montenegrin clans.

As reported in a recent briefing by the Italian strategic publication “Osservatorio Italiano,” the contacts between Serbia and South America are currently being guaranteed by the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta: the same DEA report states that this trafficking ring enjoys a turnover of 25-30 million euros per year, and could even become a serious threat to the stability of the European Union.

The Italian magazine Narcomafie has already shown, in an article dated 18 November 2010, how deep the tentacles of this new organization extend. Bigger Italian towns like Milan provide the proof: Michele Rinella, an anti-drug police official who followed the case, said that Serbian and Montenegrin mafia men “appeared almost suddenly on the scene… and act without any trouble because they guarantee to the entire [group] to get their money without conflicts between clans.”

Here, then, is the golden rule of Balkan mafia: to give back to every link in the chain the portion that each deserves.

Following the Money

The late Italian judge Giovanni Falcone was the first, together with his colleague Paolo Borsellino, to identify the Mafia as a widespread structure, an entity well-connected in politics, finance and economy. Unlike the Mafia of old, the new Mafia disappears, hides in the neighboring society, and exploits laws and rules to cover its tracks, counting on lawyers and complaisant bank directors to serve its purposes. To untie its knots, inquirers have one principal and time-tested method: follow the money.

Indeed, this slogan applies well for any investigations concerning Mafia relations across the Adriatic. In 2009 and 2010, two operations by Italian police hit this trafficking network between Italy and Montenegro; the first one, labeled “Domino,” led to the arrest of 83 people, including the Sacra Corona Unita boss Savino Parisi.

Milan was the center of a joint-venture between Parisi’s clan and the Serbo-Montenegrin ones, as reported in Narcomafie on 16 November 2010: the “Balkan Holy Alliance” administrates the routes along with Colombian narco-producers and provides Italian clans with drugs to be distributed on the territory.

Last year, the conjunct operation “Scacco Matto” (“checkmate”) carried out between Italian, Slovenian, Serbian, and Montenegrin police led to the arrest of Duško Micunović, a Montenegrin citizen from Niksic, whose brother Brano is considered by many to be the leading figure of the Montenegrin mafia. Duško Micunović was alleged to have been at the top of an organization operating from the two opposite shores of the Adriatic – Bari and Bar – with many branches in Italy, Switzerland and Sweden. He was arrested in February 2010 and extradited to Italy on 21 October 2010. Over the same days, Darko Šarić ‘s brother, Duško, was arrested in Montenegro on charges of being part of this trafficking operation.

The Montenegrin daily Dan, citing police sources, reported that this arrest was related to the recent visit of Italian Anti-Mafia chief prosecutor Pietro Grasso to the country, a visit apparently related to Operation Checkmate. But the knot is far from being untangled, if we can believe the article from Monitor which describes the country as a “Mafia hostage,” while denouncing a persisting lack of assistance from the national authorities.

The goal of gaining membership in the EU pushed Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia ahead in fighting criminal organizations, as underlined by the successful cooperation with the DEA during Operation Balkan Warrior. But in Montenegro this operation is just in its beginning stages: indeed, right up until a few days before the international arrest warrant against Darko Šarić was issued, the man was completely unknown, nothing more than a businessman with some companies spread between Serbia and Montenegro, and sound relations with politics and finance. Only after the confiscation of his assets, when Operation Balkan Warrior landed, effectively, in the Balkans were inquirers able to get more information about the man and his endless fortune.

On 30 September 2010, B92 reported on an Austrian police investigation of a Montenegrin bank, the Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA), which has been accused of laundering around 100 million euros belonging to Šarić, during the three-year period between 2007 and 2009.

However, the HGAA has also come up somewhere else: it was one of the banks recently nationalized in Montenegro, to avoid bankruptcy. Together with the Prva Banka, a credit institution which has played a major role in the Montenegro economy since the 1990s and is now involved in many project in cooperation with Italian firms, the HGAA is now under the control of Aco Đukanović- brother of the former Montenegrin president.

Following the money, the road thus ends on the doorsteps of very significant people in Montenegro. And this brings up again the question of Đukanović’s resignation- was it perhaps the cost of exchange for the European Union to open its gates to Montenegro? And was it perhaps not by chance that the country received EU candidate status just a few days before his resignation?

But what should we expect about the trial which has been suspended thanks to diplomatic immunity? Maybe it will start again- or maybe, just maybe, was its conclusion part of the deal that lead Đukanović to resign? Only time will tell.

Spanish Operation Uncovers the Brazilian Aspect of Balkan Narcotics Smuggling

So far do the Balkan criminal groups’ tentacles extend that even the massive, multinational police operations – Balkan Warrior in 2009 and Operation Checkmate the following year – could not sever them for long. On 6 May 2011, the Brazilian police announced that they had arrested 17 people over the previous days- most of them Serbs, and internationally wanted already. The men were allegedly managing a drug smuggling network from Brazil to Europe, with an estimated turnover of around 850,000 euros.

Their alleged leader, who was one of those arrested, was Goran Nesic, alias ‘Ciga;’ the Bulgarian online media Focus reported on this case, adding that Nesic was believed to be the boss of cocaine smuggling towards the UK market. On the very same day, Serbian interior Minister Dacic said that the police were not sure yet whether Nesic belonged to Šarić’s group, reported ADN Kronos. But at very least, the location of activity, illicit trade in question and provenance of the ringleaders indicates that the South American connection with the Serbian/Montenegrin groups is alive and well.
Human Trafficking: the Next Point of Contact?

In Montenegro, the change at the top – Đukanović has been substituted as Prime Minister by his former finance minister, Igor Luksić – may, or may not, lead to stronger international collaboration, and help to control the routes of human and drug traffic across the Adriatic Sea.

The urgency of this issue has been exacerbated by recent events that just a year ago seemed improbable, or even impossible to imagine: revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, a civil war in Libya, violent uprisings in Syria and Yemen and unrest elsewhere throughout the Middle East and Gulf. These events taken together are deeply influencing the stability of the larger Mediterranean-Balkan region, and Europe still does not have answers for it- perhaps, because the scope and nature of the question it must resolve is still not completely known.

For now, it is difficult to forecast what influence the new multinational policing cooperation, or the leadership re-evaluations in the Balkans, may have on the Italo-Balkan crime route in terms of human trafficking. But there are indications that this observers should be aware of its potential.

Recent investigations in Italy (reported in many Italian publications) showed the involvement of Sicilian mafia clans with boat captains that ferry migrants from conflict zones in North Africa to Europe, usually in exchange for large sums of money.

Taking control of “human routes” towards Italy and Schengen countries could give the mafia alliance between Italy and the Balkans great power and, ironically, even a role in conditioning public policies in the EU. While European countries promote laws against immigration (and recently President Barroso mentioned the possibility of “blocking” Schengen access in some cases), immigration has become a business in itself, and maybe a way to divert attention from other – and more profitable – forms of trafficking, such as money laundering and drugs.

From the Italian perspective, this can clearly be acknowledged by the uproar that the arrival of barely 5,000 Tunisians on Lampedusa, a little island 30 miles away from the Tunisian coast, produced in the peninsula one month ago: it was so loud that it forced the Italian government to release special “permits of stay” for these immigrants.

Of course, many more have come and will continue to come, both those fleeing from the war in Libya and, mixed up with them, typical economic migrants: during one recent weekend, more than 1,000 migrants arrived on Lampedusa in very difficult conditions. The strain of conflict elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East and Arabian peninsula is sure to exacerbate existing migration unfluxes from Turkey into Greece and the Balkans. With an arc of instability spreading from Morocco straight across to Yemen, and Europe considered safe ground, the southeast of the continent – and those who do ‘business’ there – are clearly poised to profit.

How could this affect the Balkans? For now, this is less clear. In the 1990s, a lucrative trade emerged in smuggling migrant workers from Albania to Italy via speedboats. However, both governments cracked down on the practice and it is no longer a major concern. In the bigger geographical picture, relatively little information exists regarding any current cooperation between Italian and Balkan mafias in human trafficking across the wider Mediterranean.

However, since the Italian mafia is controlling these routes from North Africa, they will increase their profits from this trade due to the ongoing unrest in that region, and probably liaise with whatever nascent trafficking mobs develop on the African side. The latter will be necessity also have a strong armed presence/protection and as such will most likely be close with whichever military group comes to have a monopoly on power locally. And, there is always a possibility that the Italian groups can expand their cooperation with Balkan syndicates from drugs to human trafficking in these cases.

In fact, the whole regional dynamic of trafficking pattern may be undergoing a shift as well, now that Bulgaria and Romania are set to join the Schengen zone, and all Balkan countries except Kosovo enjoy visa-free travel within the EU. Recently, police in Macedonia announced the discovery of several illegal immigrants from North Africa, believed to have come via Greece, which is overwhelmed with migrants trafficked originally from Turkey. Macedonian politicians complain in public – and influential foreign diplomats back them up in private – that Greece is regularly engaged in “immigrant-dumping” by sending unwanted migrants northwards (Turkey, the ultimate source of the problem, will only repatriate those illegals who come from countries having a land border with it). Further, as Greece faces a painful and prolonged economic contraction, there are fewer and fewer jobs for immigrants who had previously sought to base themselves there. Simply put, more and more desperate people are on the move.

Thus it is possible to expect a shift from the traditional trafficking operations that transfer immigrants from Asia and Africa towards Northern and Western Europe, towards an inter-European trafficking movement of illegal immigrants that have been stuck into countries with low or even negative economic growth. Paradoxically too, the closer that Balkan countries come to joining the EU and stabilizing themselves, the more attractive they will be to immigrants as well. Should one or both such scenarios develop, it would present a great opportunity for Balkan mafia groups of various ethnicities, who have good contacts with their own diasporas and immigrant groups in every European country.

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