Police in Greece say they have seized over 1.3 tons of marijuana with an estimated street value of €33 million from a lorry attempting to cross into the country from Albania.
Customs officers said the driver of the vehicle jumped out of his cab and fled on foot back over the Albanian border when they said they were going to conduct a search of his truck. The drugs subsequently discovered had an estimated street value of €33 million.
The find brings the total amount of Albanian marijuana intercepted by the Greek authorities to three tons so far this year.
In a separate operation, Albanian law enforcement authorities have arrested a man after a search resulted in the discovery of 1.38 tons of dried cannabis stashed in secret tunnels under his house.
The drugs were found in tunnels the man had dug out under his home in a village in Vlora district, some 160 kilometres southwest of Tirana, the Albanian capital.
According to police, the man was planning to smuggle the plastic bag-wrapped cannabis to Italy before he was detained.
The Albanian authorities say destroyed some 2.5 million marijuana plants and arrested hundreds of people last year in a crackdown on cannabis production across the country.
Albania has been dubbed the cannabis capital of Europe on account of the fact the impoverished Balkan state has become the largest producer of outdoor-grown marijuana on the continent.
Many of the nation’s poor farmers have switched to cannabis cultivation as a lucrative alternative to traditional crops, creating an illicit industry that is now said to be worth some €5 billion a year to the country – which amounts to approximately 50% of Albania’s entire GDP.
Much of the marijuana produced in the country is smuggled via Greece or Montenegro to wealthier European nations, where it can fetch a price 10 times higher than it would sell for at home. A kilo of cannabis typically sells for an average of €150 on the Albanian black market, but can attract up to €1,500 in countries such as Italy.
Much of the marijuana production in Albania, which has seen the country also turned into a major cocaine distribution hub for the rest of Europe, has been driven by a rise in the activity of organised crime groups in the country and political corruption.
Speaking with Deutsche Welle at the beginning of the year, Elvis Nabolli, Managing Director of television station Rozafa in the city of Shkodra, said: “The [Albanian cannabis] industry is controlled by powerful people who have powerful connections to the authorities, ranging from regular policemen to the higher parts in the chain.
“Yes, it is also true that the police do destroy many cannabis fields. But the ones that have special protection remain untouched.”