The Albanian-Catanian Drug Cartel Tapes

By Dario de Luca,
The Albanian-Catanian Drug Cartel Tapes

Family ties tell a lot. Especially with a former minister – discharged since March – controversial and often accused in his country for protecting a drug trafficking clan. In Albania the news of Moisi Habilaj’s arrest has created a veritable political earthquake. The 39 year old, captured yesterday by a police unit belonging to the Guardia di Finanza in Catania, in an operation named “The Roses of the Twenties” is also the cousin of the Former Minister of Interior, Saimir Tahiri. Tahiri was placed at the center of hurricane in 2015, after the testimonies of the former chief of Costal Police in Vlor, Dritan Zagani. He publicly accused Tahiri of being a collaborator of local organized crime involved in marijuana export in the Balkans. According to the testimonies of the officer— later forced to seek refuge in Switzerland, wanted by the Albanian police suspecting that he had sold information to the Italian authorities — the cousins of the minister had transported drugs using Tahiri’s personal vehicle. An Audi A8 has been noticed several times crossing the Greek border, as well as that of other countries. On his side, the target of the allegations has always denied them explaining that he sold his car to his cousins on the black market in 2013. The verifications of Italian investigators, in which the name of the politician also appears, tell a different story.

Moisi Habilaj had the center of business in Sicily, thanks to a dense network of sellers capable of buying in cash hundreds of kilograms of marijuana and to make them, unnoticed, available to the mafia clans active in its distribution. Not only in Catania, but also in Syracuse and Dubrovnik. In Albania, the cousins of the former minister were under heavy suspicion. Never investigated, nor arrested, but often photographed, for example with the head of Dhermi’s border police. A number of frequent trips from Albania to Sicily, passing through Puglia, to fix the drug deals, the determination of safe landing sites for boats as well as sites to store the narcotics.

The trails lead to names and surnames. Like Antonio Relias, suspected of being the main link around the Etna for the acquisition of drugs coming from Albania. In November 2013, the military investigators intercepted a meeting between Antonio Relias and Florian Habilaj, brother of Moisi, both cousins of former minister Tahiri. A face-to-face meeting was held in the San Giorgo district, and according to the accusations, Riela gave €30,000 Euros to Habilaj in exchange for a shipment of marijuana. The aim was to compensate as quickly as possible the gap created by the seizure of 1,650 kg of marijuana captured in the shores Castelluctio Bay near Augusta. “If I had a Kalashnikov I would have put them all down. Bam, bam, bam,” Moisiu said in an intercepted conversation, angry about the lost cargo and the difficulties of evading “the blacks,” the police forces.

For years, Albania would have been a free business zone for the cousin of the former minister. In a conversation intercepted by the military personnel of Catania’s Guardia di Finanza, Moisiu reveals some details to his Sicilian interlocutor, owner of a Q8 gas station near Lentini: “If you come in Albania — Moisiu said — bear in mind that the Albanian police is corrupt and that often it is the Chief police officer himself that helps with the loading the cargo.” In Italy, meanwhile, the group is faced with continuous seizures, like the 289 kg of marijuana  captured in Palagonia. The drugs of the Italo-Albanian cartel were blocked in the port of Riposto or on the parking lot of the Porte di Catania, where investigators discovered a rented camper stuffed with drugs. As result of these confiscations, long discussions to plan for new shipments ensued, and it was in these conversations that according to investigators, Moisiu speaks of his cousin, the politician, referring to a sum to be delivered to him: “I have to bring thirty thousand of them to Saimir.”

This politician is further evolved in the mess through its famous car. His cousins, together with their collaborator Sabi Çelaj, would regularly visit Sicily with the Audi, officially registered under the name of former minister. The green gold of the Balkans would also end up in the hands on Sebastiano Sardo, known under the alias Jani with the glasses, turned into an informant, who in the past used serve as a drug manager for the Capello clan of Catania. To the Albanians he was the guy with the glasses, the person with whom they would enter into the profitable weapon supply business: “If we bring something for him, we can also throw in some kalashnikovs – the intercept reads – They kill each other, who cares, they want them for themselves.”

Previously published by MeridioNews, translated by Exit.



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[…] involvement of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri in drug trafficking, an involvement later confirmed by the Italian police. Rather than placed under protection, Zagani was vehemently attacked by […]