New political scandal is giving Eddie Rama a headache, further angering Albania ‘s outraged citizens who are taking to the streets to demand his resignation, particularly after high-ranking FBI official Charles McGonigal.
It all started when Balkan Insight brought to light a case of illegal surveillance cameras being installed on the streets of Albania by organized crime gangs.
Albanian police have found more than 500 illegal surveillance cameras allegedly set up by gangs to monitor citizens and law enforcement, in a scandal that highlights the power of criminal networks in the small Balkan nation.
Police told BIRN that so far 22 people are under investigation for installing surveillance cameras in several cities that were only recently discovered by police.
Over the weekend, 39 illegal cameras were detected in Korça and Pogradec, illegally installed by organized crime groups for the purpose of obtaining information and monitoring police movements, according to Balkan Insight
Cameras all over Albania
The police operation continued in Dibra and Argyrokastro where three more cameras were found and two people were arrested.
In the Fier region, in the south of the country, 20 illegal cameras were found on Sunday, installed illegally by organized criminal groups.
The operation is underway in several cities and so far a total of hundreds of cameras have been found, placed in public places illegally, with the aim of controlling the area and monitoring the movements of the police.
Illegal surveillance cameras installed by criminal gangs were first found in the northern city of Shkodra and then in other cities. Police found 59 illegal cameras in that city.
The installation of such cameras is against the Albanian law on “Protection of personal data” and constitutes the crime of “unlawful interference with privacy”.
The capital is a target for criminals
The cameras, about half of which were located in the capital Tirana, were discovered during an investigation triggered by an explosive device detonated near a police officer’s home in the northern Albanian city of Shkodra. The influence of criminal gangs has been cited among the main reasons for Albanians to leave their country and move to other European nations, writes the Financial Times .
Prime Minister Edi Rama said in his remarks that the situation is reminiscent of a “Catch-22” as “we are accused of not taking action and we are also accused when we do take action. The fact that the police have acted on this issue, which has been a problem for decades, means that the government is willing and focused on fighting organized crime,” Rama said, adding that not all the cameras were linked to criminal networks and that “some were for personal use, though not legal.”
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Justice Aldo Bumci said that criminal groups had created a global drug trafficking network and laundered the money in Tirana.
Albanian drug cartels employ tens of thousands of families in the country to grow marijuana, Bumci said, using the money, connections and ties to western Europe to also operate a global heroin and cocaine smuggling network.
Rama disputed this claim, saying that “cannabis cultivation has decreased drastically and successful police “operations in cooperation with international partners speak of effectiveness in fighting international as well as domestic crime”.
Last year the European Commission criticized EU candidate Albania for a proposed law offering amnesty for deposits of up to €2 million in Albanian banks without penalty, taxing the transfers at a rate of up to 10 percent.
A US State Department report published last year said Tirana should continue its justice reform efforts, strengthen anti-money laundering regulations and oversight and work to erode the influence of organized crime.
“Violent crime in Albania is often linked to organized crime,” he said. “Judges, prosecutors, police and journalists have been intimidated.”
The Charles McGonigal Case
The arrest last Saturday of the former top FBI counterintelligence officer for Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Charles McGonigal, has caused an uproar in Tirana.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his close associates appear to be involved in the nine charges against him, thus causing a storm of reactions in the country. According to the Washington prosecutor’s indictment, the American FBI official met during 2017 and 2018 four times with Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana and the US. The meetings were held in the presence of unofficial third parties, who covered all expenses.
Charles McGonigal is accused of receiving $225,000 from an Albanian intelligence officer under the communist regime. The money was intended to monitor an American citizen who was operating for the benefit of opposition party leader Edi Rama in Albania.