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Albanian businessman wanted over cocaine trafficking

Arber Cekaj, owner of the Abi Garden firm which owned the cargo, was arrested near Duesseldorf on Friday in a joint operation of Albanian and German police | Coast Guard Compass

An Albanian businessman suspected of being involved in smuggling a record 613 kilos (1351 pounds) of Colombian cocaine in a cargo of bananas was arrested in Germany on Friday, sources were reported as saying.

According to police in Tirana, the drugs haul, with a market value estimated at 180 million euros ($215 million), was discovered in February in a container that arrived from Colombia, via Italy, to the northern port of Durres. Police went on to say that such was the biggest seizure in the Balkans country, which is used as a crossroads for smuggling to Europe.

Arber Cekaj, owner of the Abi Garden firm which owned the cargo, was arrested near Duesseldorf on Friday in a joint operation of Albanian and German police, the police statement said. Cekaj had run away just hours before the February operation in Durres was launched during which the drugs were seized and two people arrested.

A former interior minister, Saimir Tahiri, politically allied with Prime Minister Edi Rama, is currently under investigation for his alleged links with cannabis smugglers. Tahiri, who rejects the allegations, resigned as an MP to "face justice" over the "fake accusations" against him.

In 2015, Tahiri faced allegations of involvement in drug smuggling when a former police officer claimed Tahiri had given his relatives in the so-called drug trafficking Habilaj gang his private car, so that they could avoid police checks. However, an investigation by the prosecution dismissed the claims some months later.

A 2017 State Department report said Albania is also "a transit point for cocaine and heroin aimed at European markets".