Albanian cocaine group Kompania Bello "dismantled" after a five-year investigation, spanning globe
AN ALBANIAN crime group has been "dismantled" after a five-year probe, according to international investigators.
An "unprecedented international operation" led by Italy and involving judicial and law enforcement authorities in 10 countries resulted in the "complete takedown" of the Albanian-speaking Kompania Bello organised crime group, Europol announced today.
It was one of the most active cocaine-trafficking networks in Europe, according to the agency.
Members of the gang have been caught with blackberry devices using the encrypted Sky ECC and now defunct Encrochat mobile communication systems, according to Albanian media.
Encrochat was hacked in the spring by Dutch and French investigators who discovered 60,000 criminals worldwide were using it and 10,000 of them in the UK.
The ongoing operation led to hundreds of raids across Europe and in the UK where more than 1,000 people have been arrested. The Kompania Bello raids were carried out in the early hours of Tuesday, September 15 September, involving hundreds of police officers, against members of the "highly professional criminal syndicate."
HIDDEN: Concealed drugs found during vehicle searches (Europol)
Twenty people were arrested with five each in Italy and Albania, two each in the Netherlands, Germany and Greece and one person in Romania, Hungary, Spain and Dubai.
They included Eldi Dizdari, also known as Denis Matoshi, , who Dubai Police said was a lead member of the criminal group, accused of helping to smuggle hundreds of tonnes of drugs to Europe through sea ports.
Maj Gen Khalil Al Mansouri, assistant commander-in-chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs, said: “A team of elite officers from the Wanted People Department at Dubai Police was immediately assigned to the task after exchanging necessary information with the Italian authorities and Interpol.
"The team placed the suspect under close surveillance for several days until they received the Interpol notice against him.
“Our officers, aided by the Criminal Data Analysis Centre at Dubai Police, located the suspect and arrested him in Dubai.”
Matoshi will be handed over to Italian Interpol after his extradition warrant is processed and he has faced prosecutors in Dubai.
Last December Essex News and Investigations revealed how Dubai was fast taking over from the Costa del Sol as the place of choice for criminals to launder the proceeds of crime in businesses and evade justice.
A Europol spokesman said: "The suspects have been placed in pre-trial detention for international narcotic substances trafficking, illegal possession and distribution of drugs and brutal assaults, including murder.
"These arrests follow those of 84 other members of this criminal group early on in the investigation in Italy, Ecuador, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany.
This international sweep follows a complex five-year long investigation led by the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) under the direction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Florence.
It is considered to be the biggest of its kind ever against Albanian-speaking organised crime.
SEIZURE: Cash is discovered in one of the raids (Europol)
Close to four tonnes of cocaine and over €5.5 million in cash have been seized over the course of this investigation. In July Essex News and Investigations revealed how large numbers of Albanians suspected of involvement in top-level drugs supply, who were wanted in Italy, had been caught hiding in the UK. Europol said the Albanians had used their direct contact with Colombian drug cartels to get cocaine into Europe and then distribute it across the Continent. The Europol spokesman said: "For years, international importers of cocaine worked separately from the wholesalers and the gangs distributing the drug on the streets. "In this case, the Albanian-speaking network under investigation ditched the entire model and controlled the whole chain – from arranging huge shipments directly from South America to the distribution throughout Europe. "Using sophisticated encrypted communication means, the organisation’s ringleader – a 40-year old Albanian national based in Ecuador – negotiated directly with the South American drug cartels, arranged huge shipments of cocaine to the major ports of Europe and, with the help of accomplices based in Italy, the Netherlands and Albania, organised distribution throughout Europe." He was referring to of cocaine.
Dritan Rexhepi, 40, who is currently in jail in Ecuador after being arrested in 2014 transporting a shipment of 278kg s.
He should be serving 25 years in Albania vor the murder of two police officers, but fled before he could be imprisoned and has been active in the UK.
"The cocaine was smuggled across European borders concealed in vehicles equipped with sophisticated hidden compartments.
"The criminals laundered their proceeds using an underground alternative remittance system of Chinese origin, known as the fei ch’ien system.
"Much like the hawala transfer system, people using the fei ch’ien deposit a sum in a network ‘agency’ in one country. Another operator withdraws the equivalent amount elsewhere in the world and passes it on to the intended recipient. Leaving not a trace of tell-tale evidence for law enforcement investigators, the network is believed to have laundered millions of euro through this system."
The probe was initiated by the Italian State Police in 2015, under the direction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Florence.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was set up between Italy and the Netherlands with the assistance and financing of Eurojust and Europol.
DISMANTLED: Raids were carried out across ten countries on Tuesday (Europol)
The spokesman said: "The partners in the JIT have since worked closely together to uncover the actual magnitude and complexity of the criminal activity of the Kompania Bello gang to establish a joint strategy and to organise the intensive exchange of information and evidence needed to prepare for the final phase of the investigation. "All through the action day smooth and effective cooperation took place at many European border crossings. A joint Operational Command Room was set up at Europol’s headquarters to coordinate the different actions taking place simultaneously across all the countries involved. "A Europol expert was also deployed to Florence to provide appropriate operational support to the Italian authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required. "Judicial coordination was provided from a coordination centre at Eurojust, with the real-time involvement of prosecutors and investigative judges for execution and adaptation of the mutual legal assistance requests needed to carry out the cross-border actions."