Secret operation by the Home and Foreign Offices codenamed Crime State Nexus to stop Albanian criminal bosses operating in the UK - and expose crooked politicians abroad

A secret operation to stop Albanian criminal bosses operating in Britain codenamed 'Crime State Nexus' has been launched by the UK Government.

Officials at the Foreign Office and Home Office have jointly launched the project to expose and target crooked Balkan politicians linked to organised crime.

Details of the operation were revealed in Government court papers relating to a legal battle over a decision to ban former Albanian president Sali Berisha from the UK.

Albanian gangs were described in the legal documents as an 'acute threat' to Britain by being 'highly prevalent across serious and organised crime' through their involvement in the UK cocaine market, people smuggling and sex trafficking.

The papers also cited data showing Albanians are by far the biggest foreign nationality in UK prisons, making up in one eight of all incarcerated criminals.

The UK banned former Albanian president Sali Berisha from entering the country in July 2022

The UK banned former Albanian president Sali Berisha from entering the country in July 2022

Mr Berisha is appealing against the decision by then-home secretary Priti Patel to ban him

Mr Berisha is appealing against the decision by then-home secretary Priti Patel to ban him

Mr Berisha has been appealing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London over a move by former home secretary Priti Patel to ban him from the UK – with a decision due next month in the case, reported The Times.

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Documents relating to the appeal claim that links between politics and crime in Albania create a 'permissive environment in which serious criminals and OCGs (organised crime gangs) can operate and benefit from the political protection of corrupt politicians from law enforcement activity'.

The papers also say political protection gives gangs more options to launder money and means Albania can be used as a 'safe haven from which to operate'.

These gangs can then buy votes or intimidate voters during elections to help politicians, the documents claim.

The Crime State Nexus project tries to therefore take action against politically exposed people in Albania, which can include banning them from Britain.

Mr Berisha's appeal has taken place at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London

Mr Berisha's appeal has taken place at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London

People cross a street in front of a banner reading 'Welcome Lord Cameron' and Union flags on Tirana's main boulevard last week ahead of the planned visit by the Foreign Secretary

People cross a street in front of a banner reading 'Welcome Lord Cameron' and Union flags on Tirana's main boulevard last week ahead of the planned visit by the Foreign Secretary

Mr Berisha, 79, who served as Albania's prime minister from 2005 to 2013 and as president from 1992 to 1997, is being investigated over a land deal.

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He was charged with corruption last October for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, buy land in Tirana owned by both private citizens and the defence ministry, and to build 17 apartment buildings on the property.

Mr Berisha and Mr Malltezi have both proclaimed their innocence, alleging the case was a political move by the ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Mr Berisha, who was re-elected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in 2021, has been under house arrest since last December while he is investigated.

Prosecutors have said that if is convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to 12 years.

The US government in May 2021 and the UK in July 2022 barred Mr Berisha and close family members from entering their countries because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Albanian gangs are known for sharing photos of flash cars, drugs and money on social media

Albanian gangs are known for sharing photos of flash cars, drugs and money on social media

A TikTok video showing Albanian migrants crossing the English Channel in 2022

A TikTok video showing Albanian migrants crossing the English Channel in 2022

Last week, Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron visited Tirana to discuss initiatives to help Albania crack down on gangs smuggling people across the English Channel and fuelling drugs crime in the UK.

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However the visit was cut short after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a surprise summer election for July 4.

After a spike in 2022 in the number of Albanian nationals arriving in the UK in small boats, the governments of both nations struck an agreement to work together to prevent people from making the journey.

This included placing UK Border Force staff in Tirana airport, the exchange of senior police officers and the creation of a joint migration taskforce.

It is likely this contributed to a 93 per cent drop in Albanians crossing the Channel, down from 12,658 in 2022 to 922 between January 1 and November 29, 2023.

Under the returns agreement, the UK has removed 26,000 people over the last year including nearly 6,000 Albanians, the Foreign Office said.

After a spike in 2022 in the number of Albanian nationals arriving in the UK in small boats, the governments of both nations struck an agreement to work together to stop people getting in

After a spike in 2022 in the number of Albanian nationals arriving in the UK in small boats, the governments of both nations struck an agreement to work together to stop people getting in

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Earlier this month, Britain handed Albania £1.6million of cameras and drones in a bid to catch Channel people-smuggling gangs.

But the number of migrants arriving in the UK has continued to rise despite the Government's efforts to curb crossings.

Provisional Home Office figures show 10,170 people have arrived in the UK in 2024 up to and including last Friday after making the journey from France.

This was a new record for the first five months of a calendar year since records began in 2018. In 2023, it took until June 17 to reach the figure of 10,000.

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