TIRANA Two dozen Albanian police and customs officers have been arrested on suspicion of colluding to help smuggle 10 tonnes of cannabis to Italy, prosecutors said on Monday.
The police chief of the main port of Durres, four anti-drug specialists there and customs and police officials at Durres and a border crossing with Macedonia are charged with trafficking two lorries loaded with cannabis in February and March.
"The prosecutor's office believes ... they set up a network to stage the passage of lorry vehicles filled with narcotics from Albania to Italy," the General Prosecutor's office said.
Sophisticated scanning equipment at Durres has often found cannabis and other drugs hidden in the most improbable parts of lorries headed for Italy, but it failed to detect eight metric tonnes of barely hidden weed in a truck on Feb. 5.
Bound for Belgium, the truck was stopped by Italian police soon after it had landed at the port of Ancona. Albanian police denied any foul play at Durres, but a second truck with 2.2 metric tonnes of cannabis was seized in Italy in March 24.
Albania is believed to be the biggest open-air grower of cannabis in Europe. The government of Prime Minister Edi Rama eradicated large-scale, open-air cultivation in the southern village of Lazarat in 2014, but in the two years since, open cannabis-growing has spread to an area several times as large.
Italian, Albanian and at times Greek coastguards engage in open sea chases of speedboats laden with cannabis. The bodies of four of their operators have washed ashore lately.
(Reporting By Benet Koleka, editing by Larry King)