Cocaine production reaches record high as Albanian gangs take over European networks

A narcotics officer conducts a chemical analysis to confirm the purity of a cocaine block - AP
A narcotics officer conducts a chemical analysis to confirm the purity of a cocaine block - AP

Global cocaine production has reached record levels, a new United Nations report has found, partly thanks to Albanian gangs shipping through new routes to Europe and the UK.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says coca cultivation rose by 35 per cent between 2020 and 2021 to record levels.

South American drug cartels and Balkan gangs have capitalised on the retreat of the coronavirus to produce and smuggle record amounts of cocaine around the world.

The amount of cocaine flowing through North Sea ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg now eclipses the levels in Spain and Portugal, historically the drug’s gateway into western Europe.

From there, at least 10 tonnes of the drug is being smuggled into the UK, largely by Albanians, according to the report released on Thursday. Britain has seen a “significant increase” in seizures of cocaine being sent through “postal modes”.

“From the Netherlands, cocaine is further distributed to other European countries, and Albanian-speaking groups appear to play an important role in this, in particular in the trafficking towards Italy and Albania,” it states.

“The important destination of the United Kingdom, where Albanian-speaking groups have also been assessed to exert considerable control across the drug market, is also supplied to a large extent via ‘roll-on, roll-off’ freight reaching ports in the south-east of the United Kingdom from nearby European ports.”

The report says migration from Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe, has allowed gangs to set up in key cities across the continent and take over trafficking networks previously dominated by the Italian mafia.

“They rely on a vast network of associates among the Albanian diaspora abroad and often work in conjunction with Italian criminal groups,” the 184-page report states.

“The pandemic was a bit of a blip for the expansion of cocaine production, but now it has rebounded and is even higher than what it was before,” said Antoine Vella, a UNODC researcher working on the report.