NEARLY 40 suspected major drugs traffickers, including men accused of belonging to some of Europe's biggest mafia organisations, have been caught hiding in the UK.
Italy and Poland are each separately seeking the extradition of 12 fugitives from the UK who are already convicted, or suspected of involvement in, large drug importations.
Polish nationals include Piotr Pawlak, 33, Sebastian Prusinowski, 38, both wanted back home for drug trafficking and Tomasz Gawryluk, 43 wanted for drugs and selling firearms.
Constantin-Ciprian Irimescu, 35, (pictured above) from Sandgate in Swindon, is fighting extradition to his native Romania on drugs trafficking charges after being arrested in the UK.
FUGITIVES: Piotr Pawlak (above) & Sebastian Prusinowski (top) both wanted in Poland for drugs trafficking (Police images)
He is next due in Westminster Magistrates' Court in August
Six of the suspects being sought for extradition by Italy are suspected of being in Albanian crime gangs.
These include Vehap Biba, 51, arrested during the lockdown hiding in Feltham, west London.
In 2011 he was sentenced to eight years in prison after admitting three counts of trafficking heroin into Italy with seven other men, who were members of Albania's notorious Durres crime gang.
Biba managed to flee before being jailed.
SUSPECT: Sebastian Malinowski, 39, from Leicester wanted by Poland over drugs trafficking and robbery
The Durres gang controls drug smuggling from the port of the same name, and has been involved in kidnappings, extortion and murders of rivals.
The Italian court heard that Durres second in command Endrit Doklen ran the smuggling operation from his jail cell.
Biba was brought before Westminster Magistrates' Court last month when the case was adjourned.
Before Biba's arrest in Italy, Mentor Shehu, 46, was arrested in 2008 with four others in Albania for being high up in the gang.
An article on Balkaninsight.com at the time said: "The organisation had a large network in Italy that dispensed the drugs.
"After arriving in Albania, the heroin would be cut in a laboratory in the town of Shijak, and then transported to Italy through ferries from the port of Durres."
ARRESTED: Łukasz Huczko, 27, from Worcester (above) & Marcin Lankiewicz, 39, from Southampton, (top) both wanted in Poland over drugs supply
It is not clear when Shehu entered the UK, but he is currently claiming asylum here and now fighting extradition after his arrest last month when he was remanded in custody.
A National Crime Agency spokeswoman said: "We are actively involved in a number of arrests of foreign nationals in the UK who were wanted for extradition.
“Our UK International Crime Bureau (UKICB) supported 1,068 arrests in the UK and 974 arrests overseas in 2017/18.
"The UKICB works with partners overseas to locate foreign national offenders in the UK and extradite them to the country pursuing them, as well as to locate fugitives overseas who are wanted by UK law enforcement."
One of the latest drug trafficking arrests was that of Luis Parraga, 53, who is wanted in Spain.
He was arrested in the UK last month.
He joins 37 others currently fighting extradition, who are often funded by legal aid.
There is a huge backlog of cases at the court, due to coronavirus lockdown border controls, and more traffickers, whose extraditions have previously been ordered, cannot yet be sent to face justice and are held up in British prisons.
HELD: Artur Milaqi, 33, being extradited from Albania to Italy in April 2019 in connection with the trafficking Taulant Stociais wanted over (Albanian Daily News)
Albanian Taulant Stocia, 33, was running the Roma Milano Cafe snack bar in Walthamstow, east London, when he was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) from Italy accused of being in a gang running cocaine and heroin from the Netherlands into Italy.
He was released on conditional bail after paying up a £20,000 surety to the court.
Fation Arapi, 24, was arrested in Peterborough earlier this year and is wanted in Italy for being in a gang that was flooding parts of Rome with cocaine.
Albanian Patjim Mema, 46, is fighting extradition to Italy on drugs trafficking charges.
He was remanded in custody and is due for a hearing later this year.
Fellow Albanian Dano Lamaj, 42, from Barnet, north London, is also fighting extradition to Italy accused of conspiracy to trafficking drugs.
He has paid a £10,000 surety to the court to get conditional bail ahead of a full hearing.
Italy is also seeking the extradition of six other people including Romanians and Italians from the UK.
In February Italy issued 59 arrest warrants for people wanted in connection with an investigation into the Sicilian Mafia family of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, described as a criminal gang "among the bloodiest and best organised" in the Peloritan province, according to a campobellownews.com report that month.
They were described as the next generation of the clan after many of their elders were arrested in 2013.
One facing a warrant was Alessio Catalfamo, 32, who was arrested in the UK shortly after on suspicion of drug trafficking and illegal use of a weapon.
However, his case was discharged in June after Italy withdrew its EAW for unknown reasons.
Salim Hakizimana, 49, from Woodford Green, Essex, had his extradition ordered to Italy to face drugs importation charges in May.
He is on conditional bail while extraditions are delayed due to coronavirus.
Italian Antonio Chiappalone, 40, agreed to be extradited to his home country last month to face drugs trafficking charges. He was remanded in custiody ahead of extradition.
Romanian Gherghina Andrei, 26, from Newcastle, had his extradition to Italy on drugs trafficking charges in April.
Anxhelino Kallozi, 24, from Salford, consented to extradition to Italy to face drug trafficking charges.
ibrahim gahungu, 42, from Coventry is fighting extradition to Italy and has been remanded in custody.
Albanian nationals in the UK are being sought for similar offences by France, Germany and Greece.
EXTRADITION: Tomasz Gawryluk, 43, wanted in Poalnd on drug trafficking and firearms supply charges
Albanian Sazan Sula, 26, consented to extradition to France over drugs charges in May.
He has still to be removed.
Avdyl Sado, 27, an albanian from Manchester is wanted by Greece to face drugs charges and has been remanded in custody ahead of the hearing.
Albanian Dritan Galyas, 36, was arrested by Cleveland Police after Germany issued an EAW for his arrest on 15 drugs trafficking charges. He has been ramanded in custody.
Other countries who also want fugitives, of various nationalities who were in the UK to face justice over drug smuggling, are the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia and Romania, which is seeking Constantin-Ciprian Irimescu, 36, who is wanted to serve three years for drug trafficking.
A former Met Police DS, who spent years gathering intelligence on organised crime, said fugitive European criminals favoured the UK as they already have a foothold and connections here.
He said: "There’s a community in which they can hide and seek refuge.
"Law Enforcement are easily bluffed if they do come to their attention, due to false documents, and British police are not routinely armed and do not pose a threat or deterrent to them should they be engaged in criminal activity.
"We have an insatiable drugs market which is the most lucrative in Europe, probably in the world and money laundering facilities are on a plate.
"If they are unfortunate enough to be arrested even for something serious there is a good chance of obtaining bail and they can have it on their toes."