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Albania premier asks EU for help seizing gang crime profits

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister wants support from European Union countries in cracking down on criminal gangs that profit from drug sales, prostitution, human trafficking and other illicit activities.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a letter to the 28 EU members that gang leaders need to be arrested and convicted, and any assets they obtained through criminal activity confiscated.

"We want your help and offer ours in return, to catch these people and bring them to justice," Rama wrote in the letter shared Monday with The Associated Press.

Albania's criminal leaders are seldom arrested and rarely prosecuted. The prime minister said that some of them thrive in EU countries.

Fighting organized crime and especially drug trafficking is a key challenge for Albania. The country has been a NATO member since 2009 and was granted EU candidate status in 2014. It hopes to launch membership negotiations next year.

Rama reported that Albania's government has had greater success combatting the country's reputation as Europe's cannabis capital with "scores of arrests and the destruction of crops."

Air surveillance conducted with Italy's Guardia di Finanza police located 88 marijuana plantations this year, compared to 2,086 identified last year, Rama said.

In 2014, the first year of Rama's government, authorities raided an area in southern Albania that produced and trafficked cannabis that was estimated to be worth up to one-third of the country's annual GDP.

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Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lsemini

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