Albanian fugitives are hiding in the UK in the same way British crooks once did in the Costa del Sol, experts warn

Albanian fugitives are hiding in the UK in the same way British crooks once did in the Costa del Sol, experts have warned amid soaring extradition cases.

A flood of suspected murderers, rapists and drug traffickers wanted around Europe have appeared in Britain’s extradition court after being found living in the UK.

At least 34 wanted Albanians faced extradition proceedings in 2023.

And already this year, at least 27 Albanian suspected criminals appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court facing extradition for offences committed in countries including France, Italy, Germany and Greece.

Experts say the fugitives use people-smuggling routes to cross the Channel and are then protected by Albanian criminal syndicates.

Albanian fugitives are hiding in the UK in the same way British crooks once did in the Costa del Sol, experts have warned amid soaring extradition cases. Among the fugitives who were found in Britain is Denis Havalja over the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Albania in 2016

Alleged double murderer Ilirian Zeqaj, 51, faces being extradited from Britain for the second time after sneaking into the UK twice and even gaining citizenship under a false name

Alleged double murderer Ilirian Zeqaj, 51, faces being extradited from Britain for the second time after sneaking into the UK twice and even gaining citizenship under a false name

And a former National Crime Agency (NCA) boss said the UK has become a haven for wanted Albanians in the same way that the Costa del Sol was for British fugitives.

Among the fugitives who were found in Britain is Denis Havalja, nicknamed ‘The Beast’, over the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Albania in 2016.

The 37-year-old was convicted in his homeland and sentenced to five years and four months in prison, but absconded and escaped to Britain after serving less than two years.

Whether he will be sent back to serve the rest of his sentence will be decided by a judge on June 18.

Alleged double murderer Ilirian Zeqaj, 51, faces being extradited from Britain for the second time after sneaking into the UK twice and even gaining citizenship under a false name.

Zeqaj allegedly shot two men in the Albanian village of Cakran in 1999, but slipped into the UK in the back of a lorry five months later and claimed asylum under the name Klemend Zeqaj after falsely telling officials he was a Kosovan refugee.

And despite being one of Albania’s most wanted fugitives, he was granted permanent leave to remain in 2005 and British citizenship the following year.

Already this year, at least 27 Albanian suspected criminals appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court facing extradition for offences committed in countries including France , Italy , Germany and Greece

Already this year, at least 27 Albanian suspected criminals appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court facing extradition for offences committed in countries including France , Italy , Germany and Greece 

He has three children, including a daughter who is studying chemical engineering at Cambridge University, but Albania’s High Court have demanded his return after finding a 2013 acquittal was not safe.

The fate of Zeqaj, who lives in Hanwell, north-west London, is in the hands of the Home Secretary after a district judge approved extradition in April.

Zeqaj, who runs a bathroom fitting company, plans to appeal the decision at the High Court.

Professor of criminology at Tirana State University, Ervin Karamuco, said Britain had become the ‘Costa del Sol’ for Albanian fugitives, because of the criminal networks which already exist here.

‘Such criminal organizations agree to accommodate wanted Albanians, to provide them with new identities and passports as citizens of EU countries such as Romania or Bulgaria,’ he said.

‘Albanians know they can stay in the UK undetected for a long time as they will have cover and it will be very difficult for the police to identify them.’

Among those already extradited back to an EU nation is Algert Datja, 33, who was sent back to Italy in April to face charges of murder, grievous bodily harm and armed robbery.

His compatriot, Alfred Krrashi, 21, will be sent back to France for alleged drug trafficking after extradition was approved in April.

Former NCA head of drugs threat and intelligence, Tony Saggers, said many Albanians became skilled smugglers out of necessity under the hash communist regime which lasted until the early 1990s.

The Kosovo crisis of the late 1990s, and Britain’s willingness to accept refugees from the stricken Balkan state was then exploited by thousands of Albanians who falsely claimed to be Kosovans fleeing the conflict, he added.

‘And unless they went on to commit crimes, most have largely remained in Britain undiscovered and without obvious issues,’ he said.

‘People follow people however, so these 1990s satellite communities continued to grow as more Albanians joined friends and family.

‘These communities are then exploitable by Albanian organised crime groups to provide perfect cover to operate in the UK to control cocaine markets, establish and maintain cannabis grow sites and smuggle even more people; while also investing in our infrastructure to greater legitimise the appearance of being here.

‘Some Albanian migrants will arrive to join existing friends and families, others as workers within illicit activities, or both.

‘So because so many people exploited the Kosovan refugee crisis and were able to settle here when they wouldn’t normally have been able to, we have created a similar environment to the south of Spain where our criminals are provided unintentional cover by the wider British community.

‘Albanian OCGs have also established presence and criminal capabilities in Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, linked to cocaine trafficking opportunities, as ‘gateways’ to Europe.’

Additional reporting by Muhamed Veliu 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk