Germany arrests Albanian over record cocaine smuggling

An Albanian businessman suspected of being involved in smuggling a record 613 kilos (1351 pounds) of Colombian cocaine in a cargo of bananas was arrested in Germany on Friday, police in Tirana said.

Germany arrests Albanian over record cocaine smuggling
File photo: DPA

The drugs haul, with a market value estimated at €180 million ($215 million), was discovered in February in a container that arrived from Colombia, via Italy, to the northern port of Durres.

It was the biggest such seizure in the Balkans country, which is used as a crossroads for smuggling to Europe.

Arber Cekaj, owner of the Abi Garden firm which owned the cargo, was arrested near Duesseldorf on Friday in a joint operation of Albanian and German police, the police statement said.

Cekaj had fled just hours before the February operation in Durres was launched during which the drugs were seized and two people arrested.

A European Union candidate country since 2014, Albania is under pressure from Brussels to tackle its problems of drug trafficking, corruption and organised crime.

For years the country has been the main exporter of cannabis to the EU, notably Italy, according to a number of Europol reports.

That trade is equivalent represents at least the value of a third of Albania's gross domestic product (GDP).

A 2017 State Department report said Albania is also “a transit point for cocaine and heroine aimed at European markets”.

A former interior minister, Saimir Tahiri, politically allied with Prime Minister Edi Rama, is currently under investigation for his alleged links with cannabis smugglers.

Tahiri, who rejects the allegations, said on Thursday he was resigning as an MP to “face justice” over the “fake accusations” against him. 


Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.