Influential Albanian Politician Led Organized Crime Group in Australia, Intelligence Reports Claim
Influential Albanian Politician Led Organized Crime Group in Australia, Intelligence Reports Claim
Australia’s top criminal intelligence agency suspected Tom Doshi, a leading Albanian businessman and politician with ties to the prime minister, of leading a criminal group in the country that perpetrates immigration fraud, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
Confidential intelligence documents from Australia claimed that Tom Doshi has headed an organized criminal group consisting largely of members of his family.
His group, the reports say, forms part of a wider network that has exploited systemic weaknesses in Australia’s immigration system to get its Albanian members into Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, and New South Wales.
According to investigators, these clan-based Albanian gangs specialize in criminal activities like illegal cannabis cultivation, weapons, and drug trafficking.
Tom Doshi, a powerful Albanian businessman and politician tied to the country’s prime minister, is suspected of leading an organized criminal group implicated in money laundering, drug trafficking, and other offenses in Australia, according to confidential intelligence assessments.
This clan is among others from Shkodër, a county in northwest Albania, that have systematically abused Australia’s immigration system to build “an entire Albanian Organized Crime criminal structure” across South Australia, according to the reports.
The documents, produced by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and circulated to domestic and foreign police agencies, draw on numerous reports from local police forces and information from foreign law enforcement bodies. They were seen by reporters from OCCRP and Australia’s The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.
The files describe how, since 2000, Albanian clans have used identity fraud and familial links to migration agents to move their people into Australia, setting up cells in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, and elsewhere.
Doshi is described in the files as the “head” of a syndicate “principally consisting of his extended family.” Though the documents contain no details about his specific activities, they note that eight of his relatives have been “implicated” in “drug and money laundering investigations,” in some cases as “primary targets.” His relatives are said in the reports to have gained Australian visas using spurious documentation. One is facing drug trafficking charges.
Doshi, who spent years in both countries, has not been charged with any crimes in Australia. In his homeland, he had built a business empire that has benefited extensively from state contracts. He was designated persona non grata by the United States in 2018 for “involvement in significant corruption” and forced out of his parliamentary seat in 2021 following years of high-profile scandals. His alleged involvement in the Australian criminal network has never been previously revealed.
“I have never in my life been involved in any way with drug smuggling, human trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering, or illegal immigration in Australia, or Albania, or anywhere else,” Doshi wrote in response to reporters’ questions. “In fact, as a Member of the Albanian Parliament, I have been a strong supporter of the fight against these types of activities.”
“I have no connection to any Albanian ‘criminal clans’ based in Australia, or to any Albanian criminals anywhere,” he wrote. “My siblings and their children total 33. I have little to no contact with them other than to encounter them at funerals or family celebrations.”
‘They Like to Dominate’
Albanian criminal groups are highly active in the drug trade in the United Kingdom, Italy, and many other countries on multiple continents.
Their well-organized and systemic operations in Australia highlights the threat posed by their international expansion.
Among their chief skills, current and former law enforcement officers say, is taking advantage of immigration rules to smuggle their members into the countries in which they operate.
“Often applicants will apply for a particular visa knowing it will be rejected,” one of the Australian intelligence files reads, “but [they] exploit the lengthy appeal process so they can generate evidence to support a different visa application.”
“They’ve got facilitators, professional facilitators, to assist them, whether it’s through visa migration issues, legal or other means,” said Victoria Police Commander Paul O’Halloran. “They’re very adept.”
Albanian gangsters in Australia “can show extreme violence,” O’Halloran said, and they are regarded by his detectives as “highly dangerous.”
Tony Saggers, a former high-ranking officer in Britain’s National Crime Agency, has spent years on the trail of Albanian criminals.
“They put a lot of emphasis on being respected for what they do, and for doing it well,” he said of their involvement in the drug trade. “And just doing it isn’t enough for them. They like to dominate by gaining control of volume activity, proving they’re the best, and satisfying customer demand.”
A Criminal ‘Life Cycle’
The Australian intelligence documents seen by reporters outline what they call Albanian organized criminal groups’ five-stage “life cycle.”
First, they say, people are recruited in their home regions in Albania, sometimes on the false promise of finding work abroad. Second, they are brought into the country using false visa claims and fraudulent documents. Third, they manage to remain in Australia by taking advantage of lengthy visa reviews and trusted registered migration agents (some Albanians apply to stay in Australia by claiming that blood feuds back home would endanger them if they returned). Fourth, they carry out criminal activities. Fifth, they are arrested, convicted, and their visas are canceled.
Shkodër is identified as an epicenter from which many of these criminal groups originate, with five out of seven South Australian ACIC investigations between 2015 and 2020 featuring a “primary target” from the Albanian county.
Doshi, a political kingmaker in Shkodër, appears in the documents as the alleged leader of an organized crime group made up of his extended relatives referred to as the “Doshi family syndicate.” Investigators believe the clan engages in money laundering and exploits Australia’s migration system to facilitate its criminal activities.
Members of the clan, the documents say, were placed by Australian officials on an Albanian organized crime “persons of interest list.” This list was then shared with law enforcement agencies in multiple European countries. The document suggests that these agencies identified members of the Doshi clan on the list from their own investigations.
Tom Doshi is seen here flanked by police officers in March 2015 after being placed on house arrest, having been accused of making false allegations against a senior politician. He was eventually acquitted.
The documents also include a “case study” that describes a woman with “familial links to Doshi” working as a “registered migration agent” in Australia who “likely facilitates [criminal] activity by achieving migration outcomes for syndicate members arrested for cannabis cultivation and/or are closely connected to cocaine trafficking.”
The files do not mention any criminal allegations against the woman, and indicate that there are no “grounds to cancel [her] registration [as a migration agent] on the basis of criminal intelligence surrounding members of her immediate family.”
The files go into greater detail about two of Doshi’s nephews. The two men are said to be members of the Lleshi drug trafficking syndicate, a gang named after another family which, the documents say, uses funds from cannabis grow-house sales to import cocaine and meth into Australia.
Police arrested one of Doshi’s nephews in Adelaide in March 2022 and charged him with drug trafficking and money laundering after finding cocaine worth AU$1.6 million concealed inside a smoke machine.
The nephew had started visiting Europe frequently after acquiring Australian citizenship almost a decade earlier, the intelligence files say. Along the way, he and his family bought up expensive Australian properties, raising questions for investigators about his income. Court officials did not respond to questions about the current status of the case.
Doshi’s other nephew is no longer in Australia, but is suspected to still be involved in Albanian organized crime and high-level drug trafficking. He, too, has had numerous brushes with the law. According to his Australian immigration case file seen by reporters, he has a history of criminal convictions in the country dating back to 2012. The file cites a minister who rejected his visa application as saying: “I reasonably suspect that [he] has been or is a member of a group or organization … involved in criminal conduct.”
Back in Albania, he was accused in 2016 of assaulting a traffic police officer. The officer declined to press charges, and the outcome of the case is unknown.
Two other incidents of alleged violence perpetrated by members of the Doshi family also resulted in no legal sanction.
Earlier this year, Doshi’s sons James and Marcos, along with their bodyguard, were accused in Albania of beating a man with iron rods and disobeying police orders. The case was dismissed after the man who was assaulted described the incident as a misunderstanding and asked for the three not to be prosecuted.
An Albanian journalist allegedly assaulted by Doshi himself in 2008 also declined to press charges against him.
James and Marcos Doshi did not reply to requests for comment.
Though the Australian allegations against Doshi are new, he has long been a controversial figure in his homeland. He made a fortune in the pharmaceutical and construction industries and enjoyed high-level political ties. But his career has been marked by violence, encounters with the law, and accusations of corruption.
In a 2009 embassy cable published by WikiLeaks, a U.S. diplomat serving in Albania included Doshi at the top of a list of legislators “with ties to organized crime,” describing him as “the richest MP” in the country and adding that he was “suspected of trafficking narcotics.”
Doshi’s first known encounter with the law took place in his early 20s. In 1990, while performing his mandatory military service, he was handed a one-year prison term for disorderly conduct after a drunken brawl in the coastal city of Durrës ended in one of his group stabbing a man.
The conviction didn’t hamper Doshi’s rise. By the mid-1990s, he had broken into the construction and fuel sectors as Albania underwent a rapid transition to free-market capitalism.
Doshi established a home in Australia in 1997, buying multiple properties in the southern city of Adelaide and living between the two countries for a number of years. It was during this period that he allegedly put in place the criminal syndicate identified by Australian investigators.
But he remained active in his homeland. His career took its biggest leap in 2000 when his firm Aldosch Sh.p.k. won tenders to buy two major state-run companies in the dairy and pharmaceutical sectors.
Teuta Shamku, a longtime business journalist at Albanian Public Television, describes this victory as a “surprise,” particularly since Aldosch was allowed to privatize two companies operating in very different areas.
Moreover, Aldosch was not a big name in Albanian business at the time. “They were unknown,” Shamku said of Doshi’s firm. “The activity of this company was a bit of an enigma.”
In response to reporters’ questions, Doshi wrote that these purchases “were the result of a public privatization process with open bidding. I made the highest bid in each case. There was no favoritism involved.”
Transactions from Doshi’s main holding firm Aldosch appeared on the radar of Albania’s General Directorate of Taxation in 2008.
The authority accused Doshi’s company of concealing from its balance sheets income generated when it sold the two state companies — one dairy firm and one pharmaceutical firm — that Doshi had bought in 2000.
The tax authority fined Aldosch almost $18 million, but the fine was later rescinded on appeal. (In response to requests for comment, Doshi wrote that the fine had been dropped because “after a 2-year audit of all our company and personal finances there was found to be no basis for the charges.”)
Doshi bought back the pharmaceutical firm from its German owners a number of years later.
Today this company, Profarma, dominates Albania’s pharmaceutical industry. It benefits heavily from Albania’s “reimbursable medicines” program, which lets patients obtain certain medications at government-subsidized rates. Over a third of the 352 medications covered by the program are manufactured by Profarma. (Doshi said that his company has been successful because “we have invested to modernize and automate our manufacturing and instituted modern quality control methods.” The company, he said, “operates at the highest level of integrity and in full compliance with every regulation and law.”)
Meanwhile, Doshi became active in politics. He secured his first term in parliament in 2005 as a candidate with the socialists, one of Albania’s major political parties, to represent his native city of Shkodër.
In a scandalous, widely-reported incident three years later, Doshi allegedly assaulted a journalist who asked for an interview about his allegedly fake university diploma. A U.S. embassy cable from the time described how bystanders in the hotel cafe, perhaps cowed by Doshi’s known violent streak, simply let the attack happen.
The journalist did not press charges, and Doshi’s political rise continued unabated. In 2009, a U.S. embassy cable cited a disgruntled Socialist MP who complained that Doshi — whom he called a “thug” — had won leverage over the head of the party, Edi Rama, after investing half-a-million euros into its recent parliamentary campaign.
The socialists did not win that year. But in the next election in 2013, their improved performance in Shkodër helped them secure a national victory — and once more placed local power-player Doshi in a position of influence.
Fatos Lubonja, an Albanian writer and political commentator, described Doshi as a powerful ally for the Socialist Party “for both Shkodër and Tirana elections,” referring to two politically important regions.
“For many years, [Doshi] has been one of the most important allies of the ruling party of Edi Rama, a party that works for and with a minority [of Albanians].”
Tom Doshi in the Albanian parliament during a legislative session in 2017.
But Doshi’s rise was not without its troubles.
His Australia visa was canceled on character grounds in 2015 and he is not known to have ever been in the country since. The latest publicly available documents show that a 2020 appeal by Doshi to overturn his visa cancellation has not been successful. He told reporters he continues to fight the decision and “is very much hoping for a positive outcome.” Australian Home Affairs officials did not respond to questions about Doshi’s current status.
Back home, 2015 also saw him expelled from the Socialist Party after fighting with Rama over local political appointees. For years, Doshi and a parliamentary ally were under investigation for falsely claiming that the speaker of parliament had ordered Doshi’s assassination. Doshi was later found not guilty.
The man who was charged with making false accusations alongside Doshi — and who, unlike his powerful friend, served a prison term for that and other crimes — was Mark Frroku, an MP who represented the county of Shkodër.
The relationship between Doshi and Frroku soured as a result of the affair. But until then, Doshi and Frroku — who was tried for murder in Belgium — had long been joined at the hip in both politics and business.
It was Doshi who first ushered Frroku, previously known as a gambling business impresario, into politics in 2013, helping him secure a seat in Parliament. The following year, Frroku bought several properties from Doshi, marking the beginning of a business relationship that included co-owning a hotel and a poultry plant.
By then Frroku had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Belgium for the murder of an Albanian gang member there in 1999. The trial took place in absentia, as Frroku had fled the country after the killing.
Though the Belgians tried to get Frroku extradited from Albania, the country’s ministry of justice said it would not do so because he was an Albanian citizen. In 2015, Frroku’s parliamentary immunity was revoked in Albania, he was retried for the murder in Albania, and acquitted in 2017.
In a separate case that year, Frroku was sentenced to six years in prison for hiding assets, money laundering, and illegal construction. He was released on good behavior after three years.
In another incident, Frroku’s political position helped to protect a notorious character: The suspected drug kingpin Bardhok Pllanaj, widely referred to as the “godfather” of Shkodër.
A police surveillance file obtained by reporters details the affair: When Pllanaj was on the run from police in 2014, a car in which he was driving was stopped by officers. But the car turned out to have another prominent passenger: Frroku himself. Speaking through an open window, he told the police that they had no right to stop his car because he was a member of parliament. Acting on orders from senior officers, the police let both men go.
The restaurant from which the car had departed, an exclusive Tirana establishment called Antika, was widely believed to be owned by Doshi. Though corporate records from the time are unavailable to confirm this fact, reporters found two telling clues:
Firstly, the surveillance report mentions the license plate numbers of the vehicles parked outside the restaurant on the night in question. According to a separate set of records, one of those plates belonged to Doshi. Secondly, in a separate investigation, prosecutors describe witnesses as working at Antika, which the file says is owned by Doshi.
Frroku did not respond to requests for comment. Pllanaj was killed in a shooting in 2021.
Also in 2015, the Albanian authorities charged Doshi with under-declaring his assets to the tune of 14 million euros in his official asset declarations between 2005 and 2013. But though investigators scrutinized mansions, warehouses, apartments, factories, and luxury cars in both Australia and Albania, he was found not guilty. A related set of money laundering charges to the tune of nine million euros was dropped.
The agency involved, known as HIDAACI
The High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest.
, released a statement at the time saying violations involving Doshi had been found before that point, but “previous HIDAACI leaders kept them hidden.”
Doshi was not convicted of any charges in relation to this case. After it was filed, the prosecutor in charge asked to be excused, citing her heavy workload.
Two new prosecutors divided the file’s money laundering and asset concealment elements. The money laundering investigation was dropped and eventually Doshi was charged only with concealment.
The concealment charge bounced around Albania’s court system for two years before it was brought to trial. There, prosecutors claimed Doshi had understated assets in at least 26 cases between 2005 and 2014. But in April 2019 the case was dismissed and Doshi was cleared of wrongdoing.
In response to requests for comment, HIDAACI told reporters that in 2019, they asked the General Directorate of Taxes to look into whether Doshi’s companies were following taxation law. The tax authority did not reply to requests for comment.
Meanwhile Doshi had gone on to become an independent MP and later chairman of a smaller party under whose banner he won his fourth parliamentary term in 2017.
The following year the United States sanctioned Doshi for “involvement in significant corruption,” and as the April 2021 elections neared, the growing pressure — including public statements by then-U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim — finally forced him to resign. But he still wields considerable power. In videos posted on Facebook that year, as he declared support for Rama’s Socialist Party, he said its candidates were his own hand-picked choices.
In May 2021, the opposition requested that prosecutors open criminal proceedings against Doshi and an alleged associate for what they described as “election corruption” — which includes buying votes with cash or with other favors — and being part of a “structured criminal group.”
The case was sent to the capital of Tirana, where an investigation is ongoing — though prosecutors choose not to investigate Doshi and his associate specifically, focusing instead on the general phenomenon of vote-buying in Albania.
In response to requests for comment, Doshi’s alleged associate, Pëllumb Gjoka, said he had “absolutely no connection to Mr. Doshi, neither personal nor business, and … never engaged in vote-buying or voter intimidation.”
Gjoka was arrested in Albania on July 26, though the authorities have not yet announced the reason.
In response to reporters’ questions, Doshi said he has “never engaged in vote-buying – I don’t need to.” His supporters, he said, are loyal to him in part because of their admiration for his family.
He described his designation by the United States as a “tremendous shock” given his “unwavering support of the US-sponsored judicial reform and anti-corruption agenda” and said it was based on “false media rumors” planted by his political opponents.
He also volunteered that he had been “declared non grata and excluded from the U.K.,” where he said he is “currently pursuing judicial remedies.”
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rama distanced his Socialist Party from Doshi.
Doshi’s newer party, he said, “has never been in coalition with the Socialist Party, neither at the central level nor at the local level.”
“Albania is a model country in terms of the new justice system it has built,” he added.
“Of course, Albania still has a lot to do and that is why it has opened membership negotiations with the European Union, to become a worthy country of the European family, continuing reforms and the fight against corruption and organized crime.”
New reporting shows that, even as Doshi was repeatedly criticized by U.S. diplomats in Albania in embassy cables, he met multiple times with a then-prominent U.S. law enforcement officer.
The man he met is Charles McGonigal, then a counterintelligence chief for the FBI’s New York office. McGonigal was indicted in the U.S. this year for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions imposed on the Russian steel magnate Oleg Deripaska, whom he was allegedly trying to have removed from the U.S. sanctions list.
He was also charged with taking $225,000 from an Albanian with U.S. citizenship who lived in New Jersey, and of failing to disclose it.
According to one of the indictments, in September 2017 McGonigal was introduced to “an Albanian businessperson and politician” who told him that he wanted someone “to investigate an alleged plot” to kill him.
Two sources, both close to some of the parties involved, told OCCRP that the businessman was Doshi, and that the “plot” was the “fake murder” saga over which Doshi had been charged in Albania.
The sources, whose names cannot be revealed to ensure their safety, witnessed more than one of the meetings between McGonigal and Doshi. One said that the meetings were friendly — they “met as brothers,” the source said — but did not directly overhear the conversation.
In response to reporters’ questions, Doshi confirmed that he met with McGonigal, saying that he did so at the request of McGonigal and an associate. The meeting, he said, was in connection with an investigation he had been told they were conducting of a “prominent Albanian political figure.”
“I was happy to help,” Doshi wrote.
Nevertheless, Doshi was blacklisted by the U.S. State Department in April 2018, forbidding him from entering the country.
McGonigal did not respond to requests for comment.