How the Albanian Mafia Controls Cocaine Supply in London

In our new All 4 show "Criminal Planet", we investigate the deadly alliance between Albania and Colombia's biggest coke clan.
Simon Doherty
London, GB
A drug trafficker wearing a hood, sunglasses and a red mask.
A drug trafficker in a hood Photo: Criminal Planet

In the first episode of Criminal Planet, the new VICE World News investigative series about organised crime available to stream on All 4, we learn how the Albanian mafia have forged a deadly alliance with Colombia's biggest cocaine clan to form a lucrative partnership flooding Europe with marching powder. 


The documentary begins at a private party for the coke-guzzling London elite – held at a swanky mansion by the toffs who make up the the Bullingdon Club, an Oxford University student society – and then heads to Medellin in Colombia. There we meet the Clan del Golfo, the biggest drug trafficking organisation in the country, supplying 70 percent of the world’s cocaine. 

The Clan del Golfo, referred to as “The Clan”, are a right-wing paramilitary group that the US government has designated as one of the top five transnational organised crime groups in the world. “For about the past 15 years, we’ve had this alliance with the Albanians,” someone in their ranks who deals with the Albanian mafia directly, tells us. “They are constantly buying drugs – they buy up to seven tonnes frequently. They are the biggest drug exporters.”  

Wearing a black hood, a camouflage mask and sitting in the back seat of a car cruising down dark streets, he sheds some light on how their Albanian partners hold on to their territory: “The Albanians are known for being very aggressive. If someone goes on their territory, they’ll destroy everything that crosses their path. They don’t care about wiping out a whole family.” 

A member of the paramilitary drug trafficking gang The Clan del Golfo wears a mask and holds a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

A member of the paramilitary drug trafficking gang the Clan del Golfo. Photo: Criminal Planet

For the first time ever, the Clan del Golfo permitted a camera crew to film their coke trafficking operation in action; we see their foot soldiers haul 40 kilos worth of the Class A drug, packed into huge slabs the size of a chest freezer, onto light aircrafts bound for Venezuela. They claim to have commercial pilots and Colombian air traffic controllers on their payroll. 

“This load is worth about 30 million pesos [$8,000],” says a heavily-built man wearing a Gucci tee and Diesel jeans, with a handgun sticking out of his waistband. He is one of some 3,000 sworn-in members of the Clan who coordinate dozens of flights like this a week.

Officially, the private cargo flight plane is making a legitimate flight from Bogata to Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. But the Colombians have ordered them to stop off at a clandestine airfield where the coke will be forwarded via shipping container destined for Europe. Should this load reach the UK, it would ramp up in value to around $280,000. 

If you live in London, you’ll know that obtaining a gram of coke is about as easy as making a cup of tea. The UK is the biggest consumer of powder cocaine in Europe, with reports suggesting that we shovel approximately 120 tons of the stuff into our faces every year. “There’s always Albanians about, it’s a 24/7 service,” one user in the capital reminds us. “They’ll come and drop it off to you, just give them the address – it’s like McDonald’s, but for drugs.”


Half of the Clan’s cocaine is smuggled by Mexican cartels into America. The other half is mostly concealed in container ships and transferred to Albania, before it is smuggled over land to a number of European countries. There are sometimes direct shipments to Britain, but more often than not they go via ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp. An estimated 90 percent gets through undetected by the authorities.

Maintaining an explicit aura of intimidation and violence is how Albanian gangs protect their cocaine-related interests. They follow an ancient code of honour called besa, which is essentially their code of conduct. “If you violate besa there will be effects of that back in Albania,” Paul Radu, Co-Director of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, tells producer and reporter Matt Shea. “Someone in your family will be hurt.” 

He adds: “It’s absolute control for them because you always have family. Albania is a small country, everybody knows everybody. You don’t want your family to be at risk because of your actions somewhere abroad. Albania being one of the poorest countries in Europe breeds some of the most violent crime in Europe.” 

A cocaine smuggler underlines this strategy later on: “Plenty of my friends are dead,” he says. "My brother is dead; they [the Albanian mafia] shot him 13 times. Two years ago, they killed my friend, and they killed his wife with a stone. Once you break besa, you have to die.” Astonishingly, he still works for them, smuggling kilos of coke across European borders where he claims the police and politicians are corrupt and paid off. “We keep a good relationship [with the Albanians],” he says. “Otherwise there’s no coke.”

You can stream Criminal Planet on All 4 now for free here.