Albanian organized crime groups have become key players in Italy’s criminal landscape, prompting targeted operations from authorities.

In early March 2023, a judge in Trento, a city in northern Italy near the Switzerland and Austria borders, convicted 28 people to prison, with sentences ranging from eight months to five years, after being accused in the Continuo a spacciare (‘I keep trafficking’) anti-drug operation. The investigation, which concluded in March 2022, unveiled a complex network of criminal groups – many of Albanian nationality, in collaboration with Italians and Moroccans – involved in cocaine trafficking across Europe. According to the Italian police, the headquarters and logistic hub for the illicit trade was Café 34 in the heart of the city.1

The investigations shed light on a sophisticated system developed to efficiently run cocaine traffic from northern Europe to the Trentino area and other Italian regions over connections in Austria. As a result of the operation, the cafe was confiscated and more than 50 people were arrested. In addition, police seized 21 kilograms of drugs, €85 795 in cash and luxury goods valued at €35 000.

The permeation of criminal groups from Albania in Trento highlights the high adaption and rapid development of Albanian organized crime groups in Italy – even in an area traditionally perceived as ‘mafia free’. The confiscation of Café 34 should not be considered an isolated case but as proof of the long-standing expansion of Albanian organized crime groups’ influence in Western Europe and Italy in particular. According to the Global Organized Crime Index and the Italian anti-mafia division, Albanian organized crime groups are currently one of the most prominent foreign organized crime groups operating in Italy.2

Albanians are currently one of the largest foreign communities in Italy, making up 11.5% of non-EU citizens. In 2020, about 416 000 Albanian citizens legally resided in Italy.3 These figures do not include children born to Albanian immigrants with Italian citizenship or mixed Italian-Albanian couples. Some analysts estimate that around 25 000–30 000 second-generation Albanian children have been born without Italian citizenship.4 The Albanian community is integrated into essential sectors of the Italian economy, such as the construction sector and the industrial field. Between 2020 and 2022, the employment rate of Albanians in Italy was at 56.2% compared to 60.1% for all non-EU citizens residing in the country.5 However, vulnerability and economic precariousness drove some Albanians to explore illicit opportunities.

While Albanian criminals in large cities such as Rome receive most of the attention (see below), in the past decade, some Albanian criminal groups have moved to smaller towns in northern Italy. Albanian groups have developed a strong presence in the towns near Varese, Como and Lecco, as uncovered by operations White Eagle in 2010 and Bardhy in 2022. Operation White Eagle revealed the connections of Albanian criminals in Lombardy and surrounding regions: drugs were imported from the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, and then distributed throughout the regions of Lombardy, Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.6 Operation Bardhy was conducted around Como and exposed a large Albanian drug trafficking ring in Italy: cocaine was imported from the Netherlands through the towns of Brennero (Italy) and Fréjus (France), while cannabis came from Albania through the Italian region of Puglia. Heroin was imported from Turkey through Slovenia and the province of Trieste.7

In Varese, Albanian organized crime has deep roots: in November 2011, 500 kilograms of cannabis – ready to be distributed in Italy and Switzerland – were seized in a warehouse owned by Albanians.8 In operations Illyricum and The Diggers, which concluded in parallel in October 2021, law enforcement authorities identified and dismantled Albanian criminal groups trafficking drugs in the Aosta area on the border with France and the town of Teramo, in rural central-southern Italy.9 Operation Kanun in Arezzo, Tuscany, in 2002 led to the arrest of a 37-year-old Albanian boss with a regular residence permit. He was found guilty of running a drug trafficking network consisting of more than 100 criminals of Albanian origin scattered throughout the country.10

Arezzo made national media headlines again in November 2021, thanks to the police’s search of a truck stopped on a highway, which concealed 476 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of €45 million – the largest cocaine seizure in the Arezzo area to date. The driver was Albanian and a long-time resident of Florence. He was found transporting the cocaine along the A1, the most prominent highway that connects central Italy to the Brenner mountain pass, the gateway to northern Europe.11

Violence and second-generation Albanians in Rome

While Albanian organized criminal groups have quietly expanded their operations in northern Italy, violence and a bolder approach are evident among young, self-proclaimed Albanian bosses in Rome. Over the past decade, major police operations such as Batteria di Ponte Milvio and Grande Raccordo Criminale show how second-generation Albanians – children of refugees who arrived with a big diaspora wave of the early 1990s – have gained enough respect in the local criminal milieu to run portions of the drug market due to the aggressive control of their territories.12 This generation of criminals was born and raised in Italy. Young members of historical Albanian criminal families divided the city among themselves. They are familiar with the territory and know how to move within it; they speak the Roman dialect and neither fear competition nor the police.

Police officers of the Italian Guardia di Finanza on patrol in Ostia, near Rome.

Police officers of the Italian Guardia di Finanza on patrol in Ostia, near Rome.

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

In April 2022, Rome police arrested Elvis Demce, a second-generation Albanian and reckless gang leader. His arrest prevented him from killing two members of a rival clan, allegedly because of a dispute over some conflicting interests in the construction and real estate businesses. For the occasion, he had procured M16 and AK-47 rifles, various other guns and a bazooka with which he intended to ‘burn the rival’s house to the ground’.13

In Rome – a city historically disputed by local gangs, traditional southern Italian mafia and foreign groups – Albanians have shown the ability to collaborate opportunistically, silently imposing their presence in the most profitable drug-dealing hubs. This conclusion emerges from Rome’s 2015 police investigation Mondo di mezzo, which led to dismantling a mixed Italian-Albanian criminal group. The group had forged a mafia-style alliance to control the cocaine market and systematically extort money from businesses owners in Ostia, a seaside settlement near Rome.14

Operation Brasile low cost in 2017 confirmed the existence of a ‘long-lasting, strong collaboration’ between historical Roman mafia bosses of the calibre of Fabrizio Piscitelli (aka Diabolik) and Salvatore Casamonica with the Albanian international drug kingpin Dorian Petoku, who was arrested in Albania in 2019 and later extradited to Italy.15 According to the police, this high-level collaboration was meant to keep the peace between different clans competing for the supply of cocaine to European markets via central Italy and guarantee stable supply channels of the drug from Brazil through Spain.16

Over the years, Rome’s outskirts became the city’s primary drug market and one of Italy’s most significant dealing areas. A February 2021 operation coordinated by Europol shows the level Albanians reached in the supply chain. This operation took down the secret communication server Sky ECC, which contained the encrypted conversations of 170 criminals convinced they could communicate freely. The private chats show the size and international scale of Albanian organized crime groups: cocaine, which was initially bought and picked up near Naples, arrived in Rome hidden in boxes officially carrying kiwi from Ecuador. They arrived on container ships that had stopped in Morocco, where the groups had agreements with the military. Once in Italy, they were transported on trucks from Gioia Tauro, a Calabrian port controlled by the ‘Ndrangheta.17

Besides these ties with local criminals, over the years, many Albanians were able to infiltrate grey areas of Italian high society. Some public figures, Italian and Albanian, were reported to have allegedly built ties with Albanian criminal groups, including Alessandro Corvesi (a former football player) and boxing champion Orial Kolaj.18 The presence of Albanians in the Italian criminal milieu is so deeply rooted that it is safe to say they have already climbed the criminal ladder and legitimized their role as equal partners of the traditional Italian mafia.19

The choice of location for their operations seems to be no accident. Many of the small towns where Albanian organized crime groups have established themselves are close to international logistic hubs or international borders. This also shows the transnational nature of many of these groups’ operations. North-eastern Italy – especially the area between Trento, Verona and Venice – is key for illicit flows, as it offers all the necessary logistical opportunities to move illicit goods. This trend of expanding to small and strategic towns is likely to continue. But as the tactics of Albanian organized crime groups evolve, so do those of the police. According to Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, future investigations in Italy will heavily and progressively focus on mafia-style groups from Albania.20


  1. Trento Today, La storia del Cafè 34 finisce con 28 condanne, 4 March 2023,

  2. GI-TOC, Global Organized Crime Index 2021, September 2021,; and Ministry of Interior of Italy, Relazione del Ministro dell’Interno al Parlamento sull’attività svolta e risultati conseguiti Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, January–June 2021 and July–December 2021,

  3. Romano Carabotta, Ne impediatur legatio: analisi storica e geopolitica dei rapporti tra Italia ed Albania, Opinio Juris, 18 February 2022,

  4. Keti Biçoku, Cittadini italo-albanesi: la carica dei 200 mila, Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso, 26 February 2018,

  5. Romano Carabotta, Ne impediatur legatio: analisi storica e geopolitica dei rapporti tra Italia ed Albania, Opinio Juris, 18 February 2022,

  6. Silvia Savoye, Operazione White Eagle: la sentenza agli inizi di giugno, 20 May 2010, AostaSera,

  7. Maurizio Franco, Youssef Hassan Holgado and Filippo Poltronieri, Così i narcos albanesi fanno affari con le organizzazioni criminali che dominano Roma, IRPI Media, 18 January 2023,

  8. LaRepubblica, Varese, in garage 5 quintali di marijuana: tre arresti, 28 November 2011,

  9. EkuoNews, Operazione The Diggers, sgominata rete di spaccio tra Teramo e L’Aquila: 8 arresti ma 5 irreperibili, 7 October 2021,

  10. Da Arezzo dirigeva la cosca sgominata la mafia albanese, La Repubblica, 25 May 2002,

  11. Arezzo, quattro quintali di cocaina nell’autocarro del muratore. Sequestro record: valore 45 milioni. I retroscena, Corriere di Arezzo, 10 November 2021,

  12. For instance: Mafia Capitale, dagli albanesi ai napoletani: Ponte Milvio terra di conquista dei clan, RomaToday, 9 December 2014,; Mauro Cifelli, Il Grande Raccordo Criminale per inondare Roma di droga: 51 arresti, Diabolik a capo dei narcos, RomaToday, 28 November 2019,

  13. Andrea Ossino, Il boss albanese e quel bazooka per sventrare la casa di un imprenditore: ‘Ma quando je damo du’ botte a sti indegni?’, La Repubblica, 17 April 2022,

  14. Mondo di Mezzo, dagli arresti alle sentenze: cosa c’è da sapere, Sky tg24, 22 October 2019,

  15. Andrea Ossino, Mafia albanese, il giudice scarcera il re dei narcos: ‘È tossicodipendente’, La Repubblica, 26 October 2022,

  16. A Mar, ‘Se vengono in aereo, so’ guardie’, Dagospia, 17 February 2020,

  17. Carlo Bonini, Criptomafia, La Repubblica, 16 December 2021,

  18. Orial Kolaj, pugile e esattore del clan dei Casalesi ad Acilia (Roma), Blitz, 30 October 2013,; Omicidi su commissione: l’ex giocatore della Lazio Corvesi e Er Principe dell’Olgiata,, 1 August 2022,

  19. Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, Annual report, 1 July–30 June 2012, December 2012,

  20. Jamil El Sadi, Mafie in Europa, Gratteri: ‘Un problema poco visibile ma forte e pervasivo’, Antimafia Duemila, 12 April 2022,