In the Netherlands, the dropped law student Rexhepi grew into a world player in the cocaine trade

The ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp helped him to the status of “cocaine baron”. Dritan Rexhepi (42), the man who – it now appears – has escaped his detention in Ecuador, is registered in judicial files in at least ten countries for a number of very serious (life) crimes. Dritan Rexhepi (42) was once arrested in the Netherlands. He escaped from, among other things, a Belgian prison and, at the start of his career, combined a law study with assassinations for hire. Rexhepi denied all accusations of murder to a journalist a few years ago.

Through @Wim van de Pol

The criminal career started in a period when Albania was in transition from a communist dictatorship to a free market economy: the 1990s. Rexhepi was just a teenager when he was suspected of carrying out murders to order. There were at least two, possibly more. The court in the capital Tirana sentenced him in absentia in 2013 to 25 years in prison for two liquidations in 1998. His criminal name was then still “Gramoz”, later Mutaraj Lulezim and Edmir Kraja were added.


In 2005, Rexhepi had decided to study law, he told a crime journalist known in Albania from an Italian cell in 2021. He then denied ever having been involved in any murder. The plan to study law never came to fruition, Rexhepi said, because he was wrongly accused of murders. His step into the drug trade would therefore have been forced. Rexhepi: ‘I had two options, surrender to an unjust and rotten system in Albania, which would lead to life imprisonment, or seek a second chance to do something else with my life. That’s why I got into the drug trade.’


Balkan Insight describes how, after his arrest in Durres in 2006, Rexhepi was given the opportunity to walk out of the police cell due to unexplained circumstances. Someone had left the door of his cell open during a break in the interrogation. “They’re done with me,” he reportedly reported to a surprised officer in the hallway in passing.

Rexhepi often ended up in jail. He usually ran away, more often than Joaquin Guzmán “El Chapo”.


After his escape in Durres, Rexhepi was arrested in the Netherlands two years later and extradited to Italy. There he had meanwhile been convicted of cocaine trafficking. In 2011, he and two other inmates escaped from a prison south of Milan. At Voghera Penitentiary, Pavia province, Rexhepi and two others used a hacksaw to cut through the bars of a window in a corridor. They reached the ground floor with bed sheets. His Albanian companions had been convicted of serious violent crimes. In the afternoon just before their escape, the three were together with other prisoners in the courtyard to air. They were out in a few minutes. There they continued on foot. In a rural area, they stopped a car, pulled over the driver and disappeared without a trace.


Later in 2011, Rexhepi was arrested in Spain. He did not go to Italy to continue his sentence. Instead, the trip went to Belgium because he had been convicted there in 2009 by the Court of Appeal for a violent robbery. Although he was now firmly on the list of fugitives at Interpol – because he was wanted in Albania for a double murder and in Italy for serving his sentence – Rexhepi ended up in the prison of Merksplas near Antwerp, in a medium-heavy regime. The prison authorities were not informed about the caliber of the new Albanian inmate.

In the autumn of 2011, Rexhepi managed to get away from Merksplas together with another prisoner. He went into hiding but remained in the Benelux, and possibly lived in Rotterdam, but possibly also in Spain. There his name fell as a suspect of involvement in a series of bank robberies.

Company Bello

From that moment on, Rexhepi and a number of compatriots started to build a network that received large quantities of cocaine in the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp and distributed it across Europe, especially to Italy, the Italian judiciary reported. Albanian and Italian prosecutors led the operation “Los Blancos” and slowly mapped the network. The Florence prosecutor’s office later called the network “Kompania Bello”: a cartel of 14 Albanian crime organizations that was active in Ecuador, the Netherlands, Belgium, Albania and Italy at least from 2014.

Don Monti

In Ecuador, Rexhepi’s associates formed an alliance with a man who had very good contacts with cocaine producers in Ecuador at the time, Cesar Emilio Montenegro Castillo, also known as “Don Monti”. He had ties to Colombian producers from the north of that country, a group formerly known as the Norte del Valle Cartel. Montenegro also had a link with the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, which also had good contacts with producers in Colombia.

Ankle band

In June 2014, Rexhepi was arrested in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, as part of a police drug bust that seized 278 kilograms of cocaine. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison for this. The Supreme Court in Ecuador decided that after serving his sentence he would be extradited to Albania for the double murder. This spring he cut his ankle bracelet to go into hiding. His sentence was almost served, but now he is a fugitive in Ecuador. In 2020, Operation Los Blancos collapsed and dozens of people were arrested.

While other leaders of Kompania Bello are in jail in Italy, Rexhepi is now free and seen as the undisputed leader of the Albanian cocaine mafia.

But the investigation is breathing down his neck.


There is a new investigation into Rexhepi for murder in Italy. Italian prosecutors accuse Rexhepi of ordering at least two murders while he was in prison, in Ecuador and Albania. And Albanian authorities accuse Rexhepi of ordering and directing – from his prison cell – the kidnapping of a 49-year-old man in central Albania in February 2020. The victim was never found and is believed to be dead.

At the same time, police services are investigating, partly on the basis of chats made legible by Sky ECC, the cocaine trade that Rexhepi is said to have led from his cell in Ecuador. Italian justice assumes that he is the man behind a series of huge shipments of cocaine from Ecuador.

50-50 deal

In addition, he would have accepted those quantities for “only” more than $ 4,000 per kilo from his Latin American partners. The transports to the Netherlands and Belgium would have taken place according to a 50-50 deal, in which Rexhepi used the lines of its partners, who added another kilo for every kilo that it transported. Criminals from the Albanian communities in the Netherlands and Belgium ensured the safe reception, and in Rotterdam and Antwerp the tons of cocaine were resold or redistributed for 22,000 to 24,000 per kilo.

The network used Chinese exchangers to launder the drug profits paid in the Netherlands, according to the Italian police files. The Italians say they have mapped a turnover of 210 million euros from Rexhepi.

Although both the Dutch and Belgian police are investigating local Albanian networks, the Italian judiciary assumes that the network of foot soldiers in the Benelux and also Rexhepi’s South American network is unaffected.

In the Netherlands, the dropped law student Rexhepi grew into a world player in the cocaine trade added by on November 26, 2022
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The article is in Dutch

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