By Ioannis Michaletos
Early March 2008 saw the outskirts of the capital of Albania, rocked by a series of explosions caused by the detonation of hundreds of tons of explosives that were supposed to be destroyed by a secure mode (1). The results were 25 people were killed, approximately 300 were badly injured and perhaps as much as 5,000 were force to temporarily relocate, whilst the Tirana suburb is still on an alert zone due to the existence of more underground bunker filled with ammunition. It is estimated that over 100,000 tons of explosive material have to be decommissioned in Albania over the coming years and they still consist one of the major perils for the livehood of many districts. They are placed underground and scattered across the land.
Data that came to light over the past few months seem to confirm the existence of a well-formed network that exported illegally explosives and arms from Albania to various theaters across the globe and especially Afghanistan.
An American company named SACI (2) was the responsible authority for the decommissioned of the armaments, which in turn subcontracted the project to the local corporation Alba Demil (3).
According to various reports by the Albanian media the whole plan was to start decommissioning 10% of the whole Albanian ammunition reserve for a cost of 16 million Euros. NATO financed the project in order to ease the transformation of Albania from the archaic Warsaw Pact inventory and in light of its proposed NATO entrance in early April in the Heads of State Summit in Bucharest.
The specific work was done right aside the Tirana international airport and close to a residential area. Even though there was a prohibition against constructing houses in that region during the Communist era; the ‘90's proved to be a season of chaotic changes in the Albanian community and quite a few of its citizens opted buying land and building their estates close to the ammunition depots.
The Albanian press has already confirmed that SACI ended its contract at early 2008, but work was progressed often abetted by unskilled workers and regardless of basic safety rules for such a dangerous effort. Balkan Insight reported that "A video shot before the explosion and broadcast on Top-Channel on Tuesday, showed children working at the depot." (4)
The company Alba Demil is owned 75% by the businessman Deligiorgis and 25% by a SACI subsidiary. It opened an offshore company in Cyprus called Evdin which facilitated the sale of 2 tons of ammunition from Albania to Afghanistan (5). The offshore company was formed in July 2006, after a law passed by the Albanian government that allowed the arms trade by private firms and in parallel with the agreement with SACI of the decommission process. The telephone correspondence with the company directed to a person in Zenica in Bosnia (6), a stronghold of Wahhabism in the region. Its post correspondence leads to a street in Larnaca-Cyprus where the alleged firm is based, although a night-club stands instead of any premises resembling an office.
A further detail that adds to the whole story is the existence of the Swiss national Heinrich Thomet (7) who is detailed as a representative for Evdin in Albania. He is also a well-known arms dealer and has often been accused by the international authorities for murky dealings in African states and the Middle East. According to local Albanian sources he was the one that made an arms deal between the state ammunition company MEICO (8) and the Miami based AEY Corporation (9).
The latter secured Pentagon deals by reselling Eastern European arms to Afghanistan (10) Iraq in 2006, but it was later revealed that it had falsely stated that its products originated from Hungary, and not China as it was actually. That is illegal under USA Law and FBI investigated the company (11)
It was revealed that the company's legal representatives (in their 20's), had no experience in this kind of projects and the company maintained communication with Albanian citizens and discussed the corruption in the country and explored chances of participating in future arms deals. FBI has already ventured in Albania in order to gather more information so as to assist justice.
The latest developments around the issue, is the death of Kosta Trebicka in early September 2008 in Southern Albania (12). According to the local media he was assassinated, although officially the coroner who examined the body has failed to deliver a definite opinion on the matter. That has already prompted the authorities to request the expedition of an international team of experts that will verify the exact causes of death.
The Albanian press has revealed that Trebicka was the owner of the Xhoi Corporation that was involved in the illegal arms trade from Albania to Afghanistan and Iraq in cooperation with the Florida-based company. Moreover the businessperson had accused President Berisha as the main culprit of the whole scandal and he also provided sensational revelations to the press and the district attorney around the misdemeanors of Fatmir Mediu the ex-secretary of defense of Albania who resigned shortly after the explosions of the ammunitions depots.
According to the News 24 TV channel in Albania, Trebicka became a CIA informant and also testified against American diplomats residing in Tirana and their involvement in the contraband arms trade. It is also notable that the press has revealed that Albania exported without announcing it; armors worth some 3 million Dollars to Georgia in 2007 under American dictum. All these culminations have cast a heavy shadow in the domestic political agenda of Albania and there are fears that a turf war between competing criminal groups may erupt in the near future.
It seems that the whole story is a clear indication of the corruption in the world arms trade but also the issue of competence by the authorities in charge arises. For years the government in Afghanistan complained about the low quality of weaponry it received that proved to be outdated or dysfunctional and not able to meet the standards of combat. On the other hand Albania rises one more time in the international attention caused by a catastrophe that witnesses the existence of a corrupted network spanning virtually world-wide.
(7) arabist.net/archives/2006/05/13/the-arms-trade-and-iraq &