Serbia: Cheap drugs and corruption fuels mafia expansion

Belgrade, 24 Nov. (AKI) - By Josephine McKenna - Serbian organised crime was gaining a stronger foothold in the international drug trade by exploiting political corruption in the Balkans and offering heroin and cocaine at record low prices, according to a leading expert. Aleksandar Fatic, director of the Centre for Security Studies in Belgrade, told Adnkronos International (AKI) that Serbia had the lowest street price for cocaine and heroin in its history.

He said heroin was selling for as little as one euro a gramme while the street price for cocaine was between 30 and 50 euros per gramme.

"The Serbian mafia has always been active and used certain criminal services to the authoritarian state during Communism to cover its other activities," Fatic told AKI.

"In recent years, the cocaine trade has grown considerably and the amount of drugs including both cocaine and heroin, as well as synthetic substances, has increased dramatically, with street prices falling sharply."

"Today, Serbia has the lowest street price of both heroin and cocaine in its history."

Fatic said there were five major mafia clans operating in Serbia with up to 10,000 'foot soldiers'.

The groups are organised as networks, rather than hierarchical structures, so they can expand according to the needs of the market or shrink if there is intense police scrutiny, he said.

"This means that there is no such thing as a constant number of group members, as they drift in and out," he said.

"Most maintain independent criminal careers and are involved in large cocaine trafficking 'projects', some are legitimate business people."

Fatic said the Serbian mafia was using two major routes to import large quantities of cocaine from South America.

The first route ran from Uruguay and Argentina via South Africa to Northern Italy and Montenegro and a second route from Colombia via central Africa and Turkey to Montenegro.

Fatic rejected suggestions that the Serbian mafia was overtaking the reach of Italian mafia such as the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, and instead said they worked together.

"I do not know whether the Serbian criminals are overtaking the Italian groups," Fatic told AKI.

"It seems to me that they line up in functional chains and that so far they have not challenged the Italians directly.

Recent arrests of up to 600 people in Serbian police raids in October were an indication of the extent of the criminalisation of Serbian society, he said.

Fatic said machine gun shootouts were commonplace and there was an enormous amount of cash flowing through the economy due to drug trafficking and money laundering.

He warned that the mafia involved large groups that were connected with corrupt local and national authorities and corrupt parts of the state apparatus which did not hesitate to use extreme violence.

The Centre for Security Studies has run an eight-year long training programme sponsored by the Swedish government, in partnership with the Serbian government, training over 300 police and judicial officials in methods to fight organised crime.


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