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More than 200 Albanian defendants appear in UK courts in just 10 days showing scale of crimewave

MORE than 200 Albanian defendants were listed to appear at crown courts up and down the country over just ten days, an Essex News and Investigations probe discovered.

There were 204 people of Albanian nationality or heritage listed for prosecutions concerning alleged conspiracy to supply class A drugs, cannabis production, money laundering, people smuggling, firearms, violence and offences, research of crown court listings across the country from Newcastle to Plymouth over two weeks in April found. A further five Albanians were listed for separate extradition hearings concerning similar offences in Albania or other European countries over the same period. It shows the scale of the impact of Albanian organised crime on our already strained criminal justice system, facing a backlog of around 60,000 crown court cases. An Albanian national, who is an expert on crime from his country, trawled through every crown court listing in England and Wales from April 17 to 21 and 24 to 28 to identify countrymen that were down for hearings.

On average there were 22 Albanians appearing in crown courts each day over the period. On April 18 31 Albanians were listed to appear at crown courts in connection with an array of alleged offences. The lowest number was 14 on April 19.

Our expert said Albanians have unique surnames and several unique first names that are not used by any other nationality, making them easy to identify.

However, he ran the names through a database of Albanian citizens just to be certain the names were of Albanian origin.

In several of the court hearings it was discussed during evidence how the defendants had come from Albania to the UK and ended up working in the illegal drugs trade.

The expert said: "For an Albanian it is easy to spot them from their last names and first names to find out they are Albanian. They are distinguished names with last names used only in Albania and not any other country even in Eastern Europe. "I was expecting to see several cases, but this is madness and I never thought of seeing such high numbers of Albanians appearing every day in British courts."

However, he added that even though there were large numbers appearing in court, the majority of Albanians coming to the UK do so to work lawfully or for other legitimate reasons.

He added: "You must also remember that many of the people appearing in court have been victims of trafficking and forced into doing this."

Former Met Police DCI Dave McKelvey said: "Wow, more than 200? But, we should not really be surprised as the National Crime Agency (NCA) has been saying for the past few years they have taken over the cocaine and cannabis production trades." It is likely the prosecutions are the tip of a large iceberg as stretched police forces can only target a fraction of the crime groups operating within their boundaries and not all of the probes end in prosecutions.

One case at Derby Crown Court had to be adjourned with the court recording it was because it had been "unable to find an interpreter," however the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) insisted the number of cases affected by lack of interpreters is going down. Albanians account for the highest number of foreign inmates in England and Wales, with 1,336 in prison at the end of 2022. Earlier this year it emerged the government is securing a deal with Albania to release prisoners with sentences of four years or more early with a £1,500 resettlement grant upon deportation if they pledge never to return to the UK. Our findings come as it has also emerged that the most asylum applications received in the UK in 2022 were from Albanians after a surge of arrivals on small boats across the Channel. Home Office asylum statistics show there were more than 14,000 asylum applications from Albanians in 2022, with 49 per cent approved, 10,000 from Afghans and just under 8,000 from Iranians. There were just under 5,000 asylum applications from Albanians in 2021. Last year Home Secretary Suella Braverman (above) said the increase in small boat crossings led to an increase in criminal activity.

Her comments came after a leaked security services report last summer said the Channel crossings were being used by Albanian organised crime groups to smuggle in workers for drugs and other criminal enterprises, with them using allegations of being forced into criminality as a means to claim asylum. Critics rounded on Mrs Braverman amid claims there was no evidence to support her assertion. Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, (above) said: “Perhaps those who slammed the Home Secretary for stating the obvious will now apologise for traducing her. "Fact is, we often have no idea who those coming illegally are because they’ve destroyed their identity documents. That’s why they must be detained, dealt with quickly and removed before they have a chance to commit crimes.” An NCA spokesman suggested the glut of crown court cases was likely to be from smaller local police force investigations. We asked ten police forces, including the Met, West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester Police to comment on whether they were investigating more Albanian-led crime and how many such probes they had carried out. About half responded, but refused to comment. A National Police Chiefs Council source said: "In general offending by foreign nationals, who have entered the UK both illegally and legally, has increased and policing continues to do all it can to tackle any rises in crimes. "While some people arriving (illegally) on small boats may go on to commit further crime, there will be those who claim asylum, some will enter the grey economy and work or live with extended family, some will be vulnerable and be victims or become victims of exploitation. There will undoubtedly be those who go on to commit crime and there can be a variety of reasons why this may occur such as exploitation, debt bondage and organised crime gangs."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "As we do with offenders from across the world, if someone from Albania is found guilty of committing a serious crime in the UK, we will seek to send them home. "Since signing the Joint Communique in December, over 1,000 Albanian nationals have returned to their own country. "However, we value the Albanian community in the UK, and welcome the many Albanians who travel to the UK legally and contribute significantly to British society." Several more Albanians were jailed for organised crime offences during the period of the research. Alban Koci, 32, (above) a graduate from Enfield, appeared at Southampton Crown Court for sentence on April 28. He was stopped by police in the city while driving a black Peugeot in March when they found 1.1kg of cocaine, with a street value of up to £40,000, wrapped in a Tesco bag and foil. The court heard that Koci had arrived in the UK on a US visa but was unable to find work and “fell in with other Albanians” as a result. He claimed the delivery was a one of for £500.

Defending, Chris Gager said his client left Albania following an earthquake and the pandemic in a bid to "find work." He was jailed for four years. Sentenced the same day at Sheffield Crown Court was Edison Meshi, 22, of no fixed abode. He was charged with an offence of producing a controlled drug of class B, cannabis, after a police probe into a South Yorkshire cannabis factory on March 23. The judge jailed him for two years. After Nazeraj Shygyri, 26, from Twickenham, was jailed for 13 months at Leeds Crown Court on April 17, for an offence of supplying cannabis, it was reported in Albania that he had been on the run for a year before his arrest.

Xhulio Shehaj, 26, (above) of no fixed abode was caught cultivating a cannabis factory with 206 plants in a house in Cardiff on March 13, he claimed it was "out of desperation" to pay off about £20,000 in debts. Cardiff Crown Court, sitting in Merthyr Magistrates' Court, heard on April 19 he came from Albania at the end of 2020 due to debts and made friends with other Albanians who introduced him to cannabis production. Recorder Neil Owen-Casey said it was "a sophisticated operation" and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison.

Leutrim Krasniqi, 28, from London was jailed for six years at Nottingham Crown Court on April 18 after he was earlier found guilty of conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life.

The court heard his fellow countryman Ergys Zekaj, 25, from London, obtained converted firearms from an illegal workshop run by a British crime group in Mansfield, which was raided in July 2021.


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