Albanian Ex-Official Wanted in Connection with Call Center Fraud

Published: 15 December 2022

MiltonGrouppartyA picture from a New Year's party at the Milton Group, a fraudulent call center in Ukraine in January 2020. David Todua, a leader of the Milton Group, is highlighted at left, and Amant Josifi at right. (Photo: Instagram, OCCRP)

By Lindita Cela

Spain has issued an arrest warrant for a former senior government official in Albania exposed by OCCRP as the owner of a call center that allegedly defrauded victims around the world by steering them into fake investments.

Amant Josifi, a former adviser to the Albanian Defense Ministry with close business ties to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s brother, is accused of fraud and membership in a criminal organization, according to a source close to the police investigation in Spain.

Josifi’s whereabouts are unknown.

Josifi, who has denied in the past that his center had anything to do with fraud, stepped down from his government job soon after OCCRP’s story was published. His mother, Pranvera Strakosha, has a prominent position in Albania heading a body that oversees the Albanian civil service. Neither could be reached for comment.

In a coordinated series of raids across Europe on Nov. 8 and 9, police from multiple countries — including Germany and Spain, where many victims lived —  arrested at least four people and shut down 15 call centers in Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, North Macedonia, and Ukraine. Two of Josifi’s business partners in Albania, Bernardo Saraçaj and Erindi Pysqyli, were arrested and are set to be extradited to Spain.

On Nov. 10, Albanian police and organized crime prosecutors held a press conference touting the success of the operation, but did not mention Josifi.

Authorities also refused to answer multiple queries from OCCRP, saying it was impossible to provide details on people wanted in connection to the call centers because it was an “investigative secret.”

Only after a reporter made three requests to the Special Prosecutor's Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK), and two to police, did the prosecutors issue a statement confirming that Spain had issued a warrant for Josifi. They emphasized that the warrant had not been issued by Albania, but added: “As long as an Albanian citizen is wanted internationally by foreign authorities, that person is definitely wanted in Albania.”

Police did not respond to questions from OCCRP about what is being done to track Josifi down.

Sali Berisha, Albania’s main opposition leader, called for an investigation into whether Josifi’s call centers had been protected by the prime minister and his brother, Olsi, who formerly co-owned a telemarketing firm with Josifi.

The call center scam network “is a monstrous robbery of European citizens in Germany, in Spain,” Berisha said during a press conference on Nov. 18.

A few days later, Prime Minister Rama denied any connection to Josifi –– although he did not mention him by  name –– and insisted that the government was not shielding him from prosecution.

“Regarding the person we are talking about, if the state had shielded him, he would not be wanted today,” he told reporters.

“Regarding my brother’s name, which has been mentioned in connection with this case, this is part of the great dance of swords in our political cesspool,” he added.