The arrest of a senior Albanian government official suspected of using her status to smuggle drugs across the border continues to raise eyebrows.
Erisa Fero, who serves as the IT director of the country’s top intelligence agency, was arrested “on the 29th of December in a remote, mountainous section of Albania near the border with North Macedonia as she was allegedly transporting 58kg of cannabis.”
“Albanian police said Fero was using her official government ID as a security official to avoid police checkpoints and searches. During the arrest, Fero’s reported romantic partner, Leke Basha, 30, and a 17-year-old suspect, were also detained for drug trafficking offences. Two suspects on the North Macedonian side of the border, believed to have been receiving the drugs, escaped after a long manhunt, according to police,” VICE reported, while also citing local media in noting that “police suspect those arrested in the incident, including Fero, of having links with organised crime gangs.”
It is apparently not the first time that Fero, 28, has been ensnared in scandal.
According to the Greek City Times, Fero was “reported for illegality to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), along with 21 other commissioners” in December of 2021 when she was “a member of a vote counting committee in a constituency.”
“However, the results of the votes were falsified in the Commission in which she participated, with the competent committee filing a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in Tirana against 21 commissioners, including Fero,” the outlet reported. “The young woman has been accused of participating in the manipulation of the April 25, 2021 elections, as well as removing or adding votes in favour of candidates of different parties.”
Recreational and medical cannabis are both prohibited in Albania.
According to the legal firm CMS, in 2000, “Albania joined the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, which is an international treaty that prohibits the use, production and trade of listed narcotics, except for medical treatments and research,” although “this part of the treaty for the medical use of cannabis has not been enforced by Albania.”
“In 1994, the Albanian government established the ‘Law of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances’, and cannabis was included in the list of controlled drugs. On 27 January 1995, the criminal code of the Republic of Albania was created, and the usage, production and trade of narcotics was prohibited. Cannabis is not specifically listed however the government made clear that it falls within the definition of narcotics,” CMS explains. “According to Article 283 of the criminal code, the sale, offer for sale, giving or receiving of any form, distribution, trading, transport, sending, delivering, and keeping of narcotic and psychotropic substances and seeds of narcotic plants, in conflict with the law (excluding cases when it is for personal use and in small doses) is sentenced to imprisonment of from five to ten years.”
The arrest of a senior government official––as well as someone with alleged links to organized crime––comes at a politically inauspicious time for Albania.
As VICE noted in its report, the arrest of Fero “came as NATO member Albania pushes for a deeper relationship with the EU, including potential future membership.”
“Albania and other countries including Bulgaria and Romania have made significant gains in battling local organised crime and corruption in cooperation with the EU and NATO,” a senior EU security official said. “But this incident shows the difficulty in battling corruption in a patronage environment like Albania.”
VICE reported that the official “said with access to internal IT and information systems, Fero’s alleged crime links could lead to a high risk of intelligence being passed onto criminal gangs or hostile intelligence services.”