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Albania seizes 3.4 million euros cash in alleged drug profits in Adriatic port

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police seized 3.4 million euros (3 million pounds) in cash hidden in two cars on a trailer that arrived in the port of Durres from Belgium, a stash Albania’s opposition leader said was linked to drug gangsters.

Albania is awaiting a European Union decision later this week about whether it can start membership talks with the EU, but some of the bloc’s leaders want it to show more progress in stamping out organised crime and corruption first.

Albanian police said on Monday they were alerted last week about the number plate of a trailer with the undeclared cash that would arrive at the weekend on an Adriatic ferry in Durres.

“State police have credible data showing the shipment had been ordered by two citizens currently at large that we are looking for,” a national police statement said.

Three days before the cash seizure, opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said he had been tipped off that 1.5 million euros in drug profits would be smuggled into Durres in the same car as one of the two searched by police.

Basha told reporters on Monday the money belonged to “one of the most dangerous drug gangs active” active in the central town of Elbasan and elsewhere in the poor Balkan country.

“Albanian police were under pressure from one of our partner countries, which are sceptical about our fitness for (EU) integration, especially the (performance of) the police fight against drugs and corruption,” Basha said.

Analysts say indications of euros streaming into Albania illicitly, most probably from drug trafficking, may explain partly why Albania’s lek currency has strengthened this year.

The EU’s executive European Commission has recommended opening membership negotiations with Albania and neighbouring Macedonia. But EU government leaders due to decide the matter at a summit later this week are divided.

France and the Netherlands sent other EU governments a paper in May saying the lack of judicial reforms, endemic corruption and organised crime were reasons why Albania and Macedonia were not ready for EU membership talks, according to diplomats.

Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Mark Heinrich