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Following the arrest of dozens of members of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia group in Italy, attempts to connect with officials of the Municipality of Tirana and the Rama government have come to light.
Here is what we know so far.
On January 18, Italian anti-mafia forces arrested 50 members of the Italian mafia group Ndrangheta in an operation that has taken several years. Among those arrested are:
- The Mayor of Rosarno in Calabria, Giuseppe Idà,
- A municipal councilor from the same municipality, Domenico Scriva,
- Calabrian entrepreneur Antonio Gallo nicknamed ‘Prince’,
- Former Lieutenant of Guardia di Finanzas Ercole D’Alesandro,
- Entrepreneurs Tomaso and Saverio Brutto were trying to enter the Albanian market. Tomaso Brutto is also a councilor in the municipality of Catanzaro, while Saverio Brutto is a councilor in the municipality of Simeri Crichi in the province of Catanzaro.
Seven Albanians were also arrested although their involvement is not yet known. They are:
- Edmond Baci, born in Albania, resident in Catanzaro;
- Henrik Baci, born in Albania, resident in Albania;
- Odeta Hasaj, born in Albania;
- Bilar Hoxha, born in Albania, resident in Albania;
- Alban Keta, born in Albania, resident in Catanzaro;
- Bledar Koçi, born in Tirana, resident in Tirana;
- Memlin Voci, born in Albania, resident in Catanzaro.
The Italian entrepreneur opened a business in Albania focusing on providing protective equipment, but also including potential activities ranging from construction, real estate, and healthcare to financial services, printing, advertising, consulting in a number of areas, IT, etc.
The mafia used Italian politicians as intermediaries who are associated with senior officials in Albania.
In their conversations, the suspected mafia members allege that they can use an Albanian businessman, with alleged access to the Albanian Prime Minister and the Mayor of Tirana, to invest in construction. They claim the Albanian businessman has three building permits and needs money to start the construction.
Oranews has reported on the contents of some of the wiretaps where Gallo and Speziali are talking to a lawyer, Claudio Larrussa who represented Tomaso and Bruto. They discuss construction in Tirana center and the high prices in real estate. The conversation also mentions the granting of tenders in the health sector to supply hospitals with equipment.
Exit has reproduced the content of some of the wiretaps below.
The following conversation took place on October 28, 2017:.
Gallo: He is Albanian and is the president of this group in Albania.
Speziali: There is work in hospitals, too.
Gallo: I don’t know… but he is the president of SOL in Albania… all the hospitals, he’s close to the Prime Minister, he’s close to the Tirana mayor, he’s an important person.
Speziali: Claudio (Larussa) said he went there, with Tirana’s mayor…
Gallo: Yes, he did go.
Speziali: Tell me, in Albania… it’s true that I’ve got my machines but I’m a little sceptical when it comes to taking them there. If we get them and I take them there, that would be great for me, but I don’t want to get tricked. We need to send the right man.
(They talk about a man named Nik, an Albanian citizen.)
Gallo: I have talked to my friend Nik, who told me that the guy who got three construction permits in Tirana… he has the permit, but, of the 180 million that is needed, he only has 10 million.
Gallo: Really, they are looking for financiers, he told me. They find an entrepreneur who’s doing well and the bank finances it. You can make money because they sell at 4 million, 5 million per meter… half of Tirana.
Speziali: The apartments…
Gallo: The apartments. He has three construction permits for skyscrapers, this builder…
Speziali: Not €4000… €2700-€2800.
Brutto: My God… in the center of Tirana?
Gallo: In the new skyscrapers, they go for €3800-€4000 per square meter. Do you know how much the true cost is? €510.
Speziali: What if you make something luxurious…
Brutto: Can we talk to this Nik?
Gallo: If you’re in Rome, he’s coming on November 9. He’s the president of the SOL Group in Albania… the oxygen guys… he has connections in hospitals… he’s connected with ENEL… he has connections with everyone, this guy… and he told me clearly that tenders need the 20%… but they can pay it (referring to Nik)
Some media in Albania have speculated that the ‘Niku’ mentioned in the wiretaps is Besnik Halili. He is also the sole owner of a company called NCI shpk as well as a representative of the company GTS-Gazra Teknike Shqiptare shpk where the sole shareholder is the Italian company Sol Spa, which is also mentioned in the wiretaps.
Halili is also the husband of Luneda Sufali, the former director of the Gambling Supervision Agency and who is now the director of the State Social Services.
According to Open Data Albania, the GTS company has won some 80 tenders in the field of health with a value of EUR 7.5 million. The company has also won all the tenders it applied for, and all with the same maximum bid made available by the institutions.
Following the publication of the investigation, Mayor Veliaj blamed the opposition for manipulating the public before the April elections. “You will hear wonders in this campaign. They will make us schoolmates of Escobar. All sorts of wonders will come out. Divide and rule has been Sali (Berisha’s) strategy. It worked in the 90s,” Veliaj said.
He later added that no construction permits are influenced by special interest groups related to non-verifiable businesses and called on the prosecution to investigate those who speak on behalf of the Municipality.
“Everyone who builds in the Municipality of Tirana has a name and surname, while building permits have transparent files on the way they are financed. The desires of the Italian mafia to enter the construction industry are the desires of PD as well.”
A report published last year from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC) noted that real-estate and the funding of new residential or commercial constructions was a popular way to launder money in Albania.
“It begins with the financing of new residential or commercial construction, continues with financing the construction contracts and undercounting the value of labour in construction, and again with the sale of the finished buildings.”
The report found that out of 141 companies given building permits for high-rises between 2017 and 2019, 59% did not have the financial capacities to complete them. The balance sheets of the companies in question revealed that they had minimal revenue and no assets or loans that could be used to fund the projects.
GITOC estimated that 60% of the value of the project derived from illicit money. The report also claims that even when you factor in the value of mortgages, there is a discrepancy of some EUR 600mllion in 2019 alone. Findings from the report and an unnamed Albanian money-laundering expert stated that up to EUR 1.6 billion of “dirty money” could have been laundered through the Albanian real-estate sector between 2016 and 2019.
Also noted was the way that criminals and those looking to launder money establish links with politicians and officials to secure their permits. Bribery, influence-peddling, brokering, blackmail, and abuse of power are all used to acquire permits and other benefits.
The report also noted that in terms of contracts not open for public tender, up to 30% of the bid value is paid in bribes.