‘The undisputed kingpin’, ‘cocaine tsar’ and ‘the king of escape’. These are some nicknames awarded to Dritan Rexhepi , an Albanian drug trafficker who operated out of the Cotopaxi jail. He is wanted by some European countries for different crimes, but he could be on the run.
A report by the British media The Economist qualifies the Albanian as “the successful model of the Balkan criminal emissaries in Latin America” ; Well, he has not only managed to consolidate a transnational cocaine trafficking network, but he is also a specialist in bribing authorities on the European continent.
He is 40 years old and is believed to have arrived in Ecuador in 2011, after escaping from a prison in Belgium. He was arrested in Quito in June 2014, according to a report published by Vistazo last February .
He would have entered with two false identities and changed his appearance, so the authorities had to use the fingerprint identification to confirm that it was him.
In the operation called ‘Balkanes’, 278 kilos of cocaine were also seized.
At the beginning he was imprisoned in the Guayaquil prison, but in 2017 he was transferred to the Cotopaxi prison, where he was serving a 13-year sentence . The deprivation of his liberty did not prevent him from continuing to build his cocaine empire.
“His huge profits mean he could buy officials not only in Latin America, but also in Europe,” reports The Economist. They add that bribery and corruption of officials has become an increasingly common practice in European countries that are destinations for illicit substances.
Rexhepi operated from prison during the governments of Rafael Correa, Lenín Moreno and Guillermo Lasso. He would have had access to a cell phone and a computer , despite the fact that this is not allowed. The authorities have denied that the capo had access to the devices, but in recent years, prohibited objects have been detected inside several prisons in the country .
In 2020, he was represented by Harrison Salcedo , with whom he tried to file a pre-release request. This lawyer, who also defended Jorge Luis Zambrano , boss of Los Choneros, was shot in April 2021.
THE BRAIN OF THE ALBANIAN CARTEL
The justice of Albania and Italy requested him in extradition. The Vistazo report revealed that Albania accuses him of ordering the kidnapping of a 49-year-old man in the central zone of that nation; it is presumed that it was a reckoning for the loss of a drug shipment. Everything would have been organized from his cell phone.
Rexhepi was the mastermind of an Albanian cartel called ‘Kompania Bello’ . On September 15, 2020, after five years of investigations in 10 countries, the “cocaine pipeline” between Latin America and Europe collapsed. Twenty people were arrested in various European territories.
It was the first time that it was found that the entire chain of operations linked to drug transport was in the hands of the same structure. The Albanians cut out the middlemen.
Four tons of cocaine and £5.5 million in cash were seized. The mechanism to launder the assets was complex. It consisted of using a system of Chinese origin, known as fei ch’ien , which leaves no clues, according to Europol.
ALBANIANS IN ECUADOR
But Rexhepi is not the only Albanian in Ecuadorian territory, quite the contrary. Vistazo revealed in February of this year that, since 2016, 991 people of that nationality arrived in Ecuador .
Some show themselves as successful businessmen and display luxuries, as described by an Albanian journalist who investigates the actions of the mafias and their penetration in Latin America.
While others would dedicate themselves to the recruitment of children in “school of hit men” . The Telegraph detailed that minors from the age of 10 meet on the courts of poor neighborhoods of the city for their classes.
This is the first step for minors to join the gangs that compete for the growing drug trafficking market, whose key routes would be under the control of the Albanians, described as “cocaine export masters . ”
DRUG KINGDOM ON THE ESCAPE?
In August 2021, the judge of Penitentiary Guarantees, Diego Poma Chamba , accepted the pre-release request for Rexhepi. Already in November of that year he was released from the Cotopaxi prison.
He was to be under house arrest until 2027, but his whereabouts are currently unknown, according to the Primicias portal .
For its part, Infobae learned that the drug lord maintained contact with the authorities until January 15, 2022 , but then disappeared.
Apparently, he lived in a private urbanization in Samborondón. In an apartment that can cost $165,000. However, in February of this year, he changed his address. Without the exact location being known so far, mention the investigation of the aforementioned medium .