Albanian gangs use Facebook to evade law
Social media page set up by drug dealer hosts appeals for fake IDS and people to sit citizen tests
Albanian criminals are using Facebook to counter immigration raids, smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain, set up fake marriages and cheat English language citizenship tests. Facebook failed to take any action against the site, called “Albanians in London”, where the criminal schemes were posted publicly. The page was set up by Fari Lleshi, a convicted bank robber who illegally entered the UK and was deported in March after being convicted of drug dealing in Britain.
IT WAS the height of summer on a sunny Sunday in June and the alert went out on Facebook: “All Albanians without documentation should be careful at Waterloo Station. There is the Home Office doing searches.”
The post, on June 23, was one of many such warnings to fellow illegal immigrants on the “Albanians in London” Facebook page, telling them where and when Border Force officers or police were mounting sweeps.
Set up by convicted bank robber Fari Lleshi, who came to Britain illegally, the Facebook page mixed pictures and posts of Albanians enjoying themselves in Britain with more sinister messages aimed at the criminal black market.
As well as providing early warnings of immigration raids, it acted as a contact point for Albanians seeking people smugglers to bring them into the UK and English-speaking criminals prepared to sit language tests so they could get a visa or a driving licence. There are twice as many Albanians who illegally enter Britain through UK ports as any other nationality, according to the Home Office, while the National Crime Agency (NCA) says Albanian gangs have muscled in on the drug-trafficking market, particularly cocaine.
“The threat faced from Albanian crime groups is significant. London is their primary hub but they are established across the UK,” said an NCA spokesman.
The “Albanians in London” Facebook page built a following of 123,000 without any apparent attempt by the internet giant to rein it in – and despite Lleshi being deported after being jailed for drug dealing in the UK and seen posing on Youtube promoting his rap music while wielding handguns.
Yesterday, the page administrators shut it down within an hour of being contacted by The Daily Telegraph, and refused to answer questions about the posts, saying only: “I’d like to know why don’t you find something better to do? Go write about Brexit.”
Facebook said it would have taken down the page if its administrators had not already “unpublished” it, as anything that encouraged people smuggling was banned from the platform.
In the course of five months, we
‘The threat faced from Albanian crime groups is significant. London is their primary hub but they are established across the UK’
uncovered a succession of posts, tipping off illegal immigrants.
“Albania, I just passed by Lewisham. Emigration at the station be careful. God save you, share it as soon as possible in an anonymous way,” said one on March 28, while another replied: “God save all. Albanian, thanx for informing us. F--- Home Office.”
One on July 18 said: “I have an appeal to all of you who are without legal papers in the UK. Be careful at Turnpike Lane Station. It is full of police.”
Ireland is a cheaper and easier route into the UK for illegal immigrants as tighter cross-channel controls have pushed up the price to 14,000 euros to reach the UK from the continent.
One post reads: “Hello Albanian in London. I have two friends who have arrived in Dublin and claimed asylum. They let them go. They are free now but do not have any papers. If you know any safe way to get to England without any dangers, please advise.”
One reply quoted £1,500 per person, with a phone number. Another said: “Paying £1,300 a friend did get to England four days ago. I can give you the number of that person who can do it in Ireland. He did bring in 4 friends.”
English language and driving theory tests are subverted by creating a fake identity document in the name of the Albanian who wants to pass, but with the picture of the person who will take the test. One post reads: “I have my cousin but he cannot speak well English. Can anyone help to get life in the UK test? We pay good money.”
Another asks: “Hello brother. Do you know anyone to pass theory driving test?” A reply under the name “Leon Ryan” indicated they could for £1,200.
The reply from a named Albanian invites them to send an email, adding: “For 3K, you can have it on your hand.”
Another requests a marriage certificate, issued in Tirana, to be used to secure a visa into the UK.
It is understood the NCA has deployed six officers to Albania. A spokesman said: “We work closely with Albanian authorities and others in the region to combat key threats to the UK.”
The Home Office said: “We will not tolerate any abuse of the immigration system and are clear that anyone found to be deliberately disrupting enforcement should feel the full force of the law.
“Social media companies have a responsibility to prevent illegal activity on their platforms. Our online harms White Paper proposes a duty on companies to tackle illegal activity on their platforms, including organised immigration crime.”
Fari Lleshi, a convicted bank robber and drug dealer who set up the Facebook page, seen wielding handguns on Youtube