The Balkan mafias wielding their power in Spain

Members of around 100 criminal groups from Eastern Europe are living in the country, locked in a battle over control of the drug trade

Ljubomir Krivocapic, a fugitive from Montenegro, was arrested in Barcelona in August.
Ljubomir Krivocapic, a fugitive from Montenegro, was arrested in Barcelona in August.

It was no coincidence that the police came for Ljubomir Krivocapic on August 22 in a hotel in Barcelona. Nor was it a coincidence that the prior record of this attractive 28-year-old from Montenegro leads to the walled town of Kotor, which sits on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, has World Heritage status and once served as a refuge for fleets and boats in bygone times.

All it took was a phone call from Serbian officers to their Spanish counterparts within the European Network of Fugitive Active Search Teams (ENFAST) to locate him. “He left the hotel by bike at 9am and didn’t come back until 1am,” police sources explain. “We arrested him while he was dropping off his bike, without resisting at all.”

Krivocapic was a bodyguard for the leader of the fearsome Skaljari criminal clan, one of the most important mafia groups from Montenegro, and which has racked up dozens of killings all over Europe. Krivocapic is accused of shooting dead a man in the inside of a vehicle on May 31, 2016 in Dobrota, which is part of the Kotor municipality in Montenegro.

Krivocapic’s arrest speaks to the preference of organized crime groups from the Balkans for hiding in Spain

The presence of Krivocapic in Spain, with an international arrest warrant hanging over him, speaks to the preference of organized crime groups from the Balkans for hiding in Spain, where it is estimated that there are members of a hundred or so groups from Serbia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia, according to the latest data from Spain’s Intelligence Center for Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime (CITCO). In Catalonia, Valencia and Málaga they can pass unnoticed and also find connections in order to increase their power.

Now, after the vacuum left behind by police arrests of members of the mafias that were operating earlier on the Costa del Sol, “Serbian gangs are competing with Dutch and French-Algerian groups for the control of the drug trafficking in the area: there are shootings, kidnappings and other violent actions,” warn police sources, adding that the recent fire that destroyed the Sisu Boutique Hotel in Marbella’s upscale Puerto Banús area could be related to organized crime.

Ljubomir Krivocapic.
Ljubomir Krivocapic.

Krivocapic had been seen in other hotels in the area in which he was staying in previous days, according to police sources, and he was carrying a fake ID. “One of the big difficulties in tracking down fugitives from countries from the former Yugoslavia is precisely the ease with which they can get hold of fake documents,” explain sources from the drug unit of the Civil Guard. “They are accused of a crime under one name and then they return to continue committing crimes under another.”

The first groups arrived in Spain at the end of the war in the Balkans – that’s to say, from the year 2001 – according to police reports, which state that initially it was Albanian gangs who operated in the country, specializing in stealing from industrial parks, and then from luxury homes (including those of soccer players), before drug gangs from Montenegro and Serbia arrived.”

Civil Guard sources explain that “Serbians and Montenegrins are part of international networks dedicated to the trafficking of drugs and arms,” which makes them more dangerous. “They began by manning yachts and merchant ships for big companies,” they explain. “And they have ended up going to Brazil to take charge of the whole cocaine business from its origin: there is a Serbian colony in Puerto de Santos.”

Contacts forged at the time with the Colombian FARC guerrillas produced the first cocaine shipments to arrive in Kotor, according to police reports. This, combined with their roots in Latin American and their control of distribution channels for arms and drugs in Europe thanks to the war in the former Yugoslavia, turned these gangs into “very strong groups today,” according to police and Civil Guard sources. That’s reflected in a recent report published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, entitled “Transnational Tentacles: Global Hotspots of Western Balkan Organized Crime.”

Criminals who feel untouchable

Investigators do not consider these gangs to be a major threat in Spain, but they do point to their capacity for violence and the level of insecurity that their score-settling and home invasions can cause. This was the case recently when there was a wave of burglaries in the houses of well-known soccer players in luxury housing developments.

The biggest difficulty for the authorities is arresting them and locking them up, given that the members of these gangs use many different identities. They also travel around Europe with ease. This creates a certain sensation of impunity, and that is where the danger lies.

According to police sources, relations with their places of origin are a constant. They make regular visits back home, where their families remain, and it is there that they get hold of the fake documentation that they use. This is also where they flaunt their wealth and invest a large part of their profits.

English version by Simon Hunter.


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