The Albanian government has dismissed its national police chief as it faces increasing pressure from the international community to tackle the growing cannabis trade in the country.
Albania has become the largest grower of indoor cannabis in Europe after scores of its farmers turned to cultivating the drug, which is considerably more profitable that growing legal crops.
Haki Cako was sacked as the country attempts to clamp down on the activities of its organised criminal gangs ahead of possible accession talks with the European Union later this year.
While the government failed to give a specific reason for Cako’s firing, it said in a statement that it was looking for a new candidate able to deal with a larger workload at greater speed.
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s administration said it views the continuing cultivation of cannabis in the country as unacceptable.
“Police work should indispensably be driven toward tangible results to better respond to the requirements of this new stage and the high expectations of the people and our international partners,” the statement read.
Cako, who made no immediate comment on his dismissal, had claimed that his police force had stamped out cannabis cultivation across the country after a dramatic fall in the number of marijuana plots uncovered by investigators last year.
In reality, Albanian criminal gangs continue to grow tonnes of cannabis every year, smuggling huge quantities of the drug across the Adriatic Sea to Italy in speedboats.
Rama has claimed Albania will join the EU by the early 2020s, but it has been made clear by leaders in Brussels that the country must make progress in its efforts to crack down on organised crime and corruption.
As well as being a major producer of cannabis, Albania is also a key entry point for smugglers bringing cocaine and heroin into European countries.
In an open letter to European leaders published in November last year, Rama called on member states to help Albania disrupt the activities of the country’s organised crime networks.
“We want your help and offer ours in return, to catch these people and bring them to justice” Rama wrote.
“Albanians understand perfectly well how their nation’s recent history has brought them international opprobrium. In the early lawless years following the fall of our dictatorship, the cultivation of cannabis seemed for some an easy answer to hard times and chaos.
“It represented quick profits. In the early years, it wasn’t even illegal.
“Later, police, prosecutors and judges could be easily bought off. There was political protection from the highest levels of government. Gang leaders enjoyed prestige and local admiration.”09