Monday, February 3, 2014

Balkan Mafias broaden their reach through Greece, by Ioannis Michaletos

Greek organized crime networks and Balkan ones, most especially from Albania, have for several years competed amongst each other for illicit revenues and for staking a claim in urban "turfs" that were viewed as locales for raising substantial amounts of revenue from sectors such as narcotics, prostitution and racketeering.

The financial depression in the country along with decades-old buildup of common interests has matured in merges to a great extent creating hybrid networks that have a greater reach not only nationally but regionally. In addition the criminal groups based in Athens especially, tend to supply terrorist groups with weaponry, while being able to "cut deals" for a variety of criminal actors from afar as Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Gulf states, Czech republic and Latin America.

Arms trafficking in and off the country are becoming a menace for Greek security authorities, since it is directly related to the social threat posed by criminal groups and to the supply of terrorist groups. Over the past 5 years Greek Police has increased more than 500% the number of hand grenades been confiscated compared to a previous period. AK-47, Tokarev, Makarov and Zastava semi-automatic pistols, as well as, RPG's and plastic explosives are routinely found in the hands of criminal groups that are often of mixed Greek-Balkan composition.

In 2012 the authorities confiscated 194 automatic rifles, in 2011 172, in 2010 200, in 2009 110 and in 2008 165. Regarding pistols, in 2012 there were 512 confiscations, in 2011 549, in 2010 565, in 2009 538 and in 2008 501. The number of revolvers were 138, 126,159,124,134 for the respective years.

In hand grenades a noticeable increase is recorded. From 166 units in 2009 there were 817 in 2012. Moreover in 2008 174 kilos of explosives were confiscated versus, 1653 kilos in 2009, 67,630 kilos in 2010, 3,675 in 2011 and 100 Kg in 2012.

Despite the above, it is assessed than less than 5% of weaponry and explosives imported annually mostly from Albania, Kosovo, FYROM and Bulgaria is able to be detected by the authorities. In the Athens metropolitan region with more than 5.5 million residents, there are estimated to be at any given moment more than 1000 weapons hideouts used by mafia networks to traffic their product. In each “cache” a few dozens of weapons are stashed so even if a Police operation results in a confiscation, the dealers can easily continue supplying the market by turning into their other locations. Mobile arms caches in cars and vans, is also widely suspected.
The profits can be substantial, and the supply has dropped the prices to a rather low value. An AK-47 delivered with 60 bullets costs on average 1,500 Euros with each additional bullet to be priced for one Euro.

Between 2010 and 2011 around 40 organized gangs of robbers using AK-47 have been disbanded by the Greek Police, and almost in all cases they were composed by Albanians, or mixed groups along with Greeks, Bulgarians and Georgians. Another 20 groups of such nature are believed to be at large. They target individual residences, banks, post offices and money transfer security vehicles. What is a more worrying trend is the nexus between these types of criminal action with local far Left terrorist organizations.

An Albanian citizen, operating as a contract killer between Greece, Albania and Italy with more than 30 "hits" in his record, named Julian Sinanaj, confessed that he placed bombs in Greece on behalf of terrorist groups under the guidance of a Greek political official of an unnamed party. Sinanaj collaborated with the Mehilli criminal group from Vlore-Albania where a number of contacts between Greeks and Albanians have flourished over the years either in weapons smuggling, illegal immigration schemes and cannabis & tobacco contraband.

Over the past few which had for 2011 around years there are 6-7,000 armed robberies happening in Greece, 90% of those involving Balkan or mixed groups. The analogy with a country such as USA where 350,000 armed robberies occurred, shows that Greece a country with 12 million residents has almost the same amount of robberies per capita, while the trend is high compared to that of most EU members. Moreover, on an average month there are more than 10 incidents nationwide of fire exchange between criminal gangs and Police forces with occasional casualties from both sides. The existence of strong weaponry in the hands of mafias ensures they are at least on par with those of the legal forces.

The consolidation of these mixed groups has evolved in the crucial illicit sector of racketeering and loan sharking which is booming due to the economic dire straits the country is facing. In Athens more than 100 "heads” composed by Greeks, Albanians and ex-Soviet states national, are controlling the proceedings of hundreds of businesses using 500 "strong men" as muscles to enforce their will.

Media reports from time to time have pin-pointed around 50 night clubs used as command centers, and situated in lucrative spots in the beach front of the capital and in the main commercial avenues, such as Syggrou and Piraeus avenues. Those in turn are related to extensive drug and sex trafficking rings that accumulate more than 500,000 Euros in cash daily, whilst illegal casinos that are related to the networks mentioned are pumping further amounts to the hands of the heads and their enforcers. Contrary to popular believing the entire money trail does not need to be laundered, since there is a vibrant and extremely extensive "cash economy" in the country where the need for large amounts of cash, and especially in the Athenian underworld is being met by these proceedings. Lesser amounts are being directed to Balkan destinations mostly

What lies ahead?

As long as the real economy is being decreasing to a pace of more than minus 7% annually (GDP drop + deflation) so will black (and also very much real) economy flourish undeterred by official regulations and with strong links to deteriorating legal business entities due to loan sharking schemes and buyout by mafias of controlling stakes of companies through the pretext of international funds and under the form of foreign investors. At the same time Albanian groups are becoming tightly integrated to the local underworld and in turn provide ample space for Greek criminals to either hide in Albania or expand their businesses there, especially in the vicinities of Vlore, Fieri and Sarande.

Points of interest

- More than 200 Greek citizens of young age have been arrested as “drug mules” mostly in international airports across the planet in the last 18 months. Almost all were recruited by local Greek-Balkan criminals and lured with the motive of fast cash with minimum effort. The rapidness and easiness the recruitment took place was astonishing. In most cases the youth was approached by nigh-life patrons in a specific operation to replenish the “drug mule population” with clean record citizens from a country that rarely produced such kind of trafficking services.

- Sex tourism: Greece and especially Athens are becoming steadily a tourist hot spot for sex tourism. More than 600 illegal sex premises operate in metropolitan Athens region with a daily cash flow estimated at more than 1 million Euros, excluding other levels of the illicit sex industry.

- Tobacco contraband in the county is estimated at 1 billion Euros annually and has resulted in the empowerment of the links between Greeks mafias and those of Albania, Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria ones. It is directly related to drug contraband using established infrastructure and human resources

- Oil smuggling runs at 1 billion Euros annually and encompasses in terms of deals geographically most of the Balkan states

- Illegal immigration in the county has resulted in around 500,000 undocumented foreign nationals (at any given moment) who raise funds continuously to support themselves and in dubious sectors. In the vast majority of the cases the revenues are being collected by Greek-Balkan groups. Street vendors in Athens, numbering more than 10,000 people raise daily 500,000 Euros minimum, which is directed 70% to Greek, Balkan and Chinese criminal groups. Likewise more amounts are raised when immigrants are trying to leave the country to other destinations or for meeting their daily needs for housing. The illegal immigration sector is gradually been consolidated into the hands of mafia groups, while an array of NGO's has been established that it is used as a "protective base" for covering up, abetting and protecting such activities.

- The total organized crime activities in Greece are able to generate at least 15 billion Euros annually in cash, thus becoming a sector of importance and on a regional level. Districts such as the Lazarati town in Albania live-off by massive cannabis trade exported to Greece and Italy, while Southern FYROM and Bulgaria profit to a great extent by providing "services & goods" to Greek-based networks.

- As it was noted above a large amount of the cash generated is not laundered because it is needed to support a cash-based parallel society. The amounts that do need to be "washed" and then come back to the local economy or destined to be invested to the international markets, follow a labyrinth-like procedure and end up in different jurisdictions such as Montenegro, Czech Republic, Moldavia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Albania, FYROM, Bulgaria, Hungary. It can be roughly assessed that more than 3 billion Euros annually are being directed in that manner. Once into the international legal system they are being leveraged through financial instruments and further support the liquidity of the banking system worldwide, in similar fashion like most of the way modern day organized crime functions.


Until recently the Greek security system and most importantly the leading governmental structures, refused to accept the notion that Mafia-type criminal structures are indeed flourishing in the country, and that consequently these criminals are well-embedded into the local social and economic life and increasingly in collaboration with Balkan and Turkish similar criminal structures. The avalanche of security concerns though has forced into a rethinking and re-engineering of the system which develops into more coherent structures aiming into combating criminal structures by heavy handed approach, use of high-technology and by enchased specialization amongst Police divisions.

Furthermore, Police collaboration between Balkan states is increasing steadily, while links and bonds between Mafias, legal businesses, and terrorism and front organizations are being scrutinized and exposed thereafter. It can be safely estimated that in 2014 and the coming period, major criminal cases of Pan - Balkan nature are going to be revealed, based on wrongdoings in Greece that will eventually shake up and upturn entire sectors of the “elite” stratum in several countries.