AT least 25 foreign organised crime gangs are operating in Scotland –with police particularly concerned about the ultra-violent Albanian mafia, the Sunday Herald can reveal.
The Balkan gangsters have moved into Scotland's lucrative drugs and vice markets over the last year, according to the first official intelligence assessment of international crime gangs operating in Scotland.
The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) now ranks ethnic Albanian groups among those "non-indigenous" gangs posing the greatest threat.
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According to police intelligence shared with the Sunday Herald, foreign gangs account for 25 of the 267 organised crime groups in Scotland. Other foreign gangs include Chinese Triads responsible for everything from cannabis farms to bootleg DVDs; people traffickers from Bangladesh and the former Czechoslovakia; as well as Yardies from the Caribbean, incorporating criminals from West Africa, peddling crack and prostitutes.
The Albanians, known as the Mafia Shqiptare and brutalised by the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, have links right at the heart of world trade routes for heroin, guns and women. Police see them as presenting a serious new challenge.
A decade after they conquered the sex trade in London's Soho and cowed the Mafia in its Italian heartlands, Mafia Shqiptare families officially rank among the "most wanted" serious organised crime groups in Scotland.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Whitelock, of SCDEA, said: "We are noting the emergence of a number of crime groups from other countries operating in Scotland. This includes gangs from eastern Europe, southeast Asia – particularly Vietnam and China – as well as African countries.
"We are aware of their presence here in Scotland and we will not be complacent. The Albanians are here now. Some of the individuals concerned are known to be capable of extreme violence. Albanian serious and organised crime groups have been known to be involved in prostitution, arms and drugs. They have been flagged up in our mapping exercise.
"We have a list of the top 20% most serious organised crime groups, each of which is in the ownership of one of the forces or the agency. The Albanians are on that list."
Albanian crime families – often relatively small but fiercely bonded together by a code of honour and blood feuds – arrived in the UK after the Kosovo war of 1999.
Members of Mafia Shqiptare families have spread their tentacles to Scotland before. In 2003, for example, vice king Luan Plakici, an Albanian from Montenegro, was jailed for 10 years for trafficking women from Moldova, Romania and elsewhere in to prostitution in London after promising them good jobs.
He married one of his victims, even pimping her on his wedding night, as he made an estimated £3 million fortune. It is thought he also supplied Glasgow's sex trade, including a St Petersburg teenager who escaped from a city brothel.
However, direct Albanian control of vice businesses – or supply networks for heroin – would pose a major threat not just to law enforcement but to the interests of indigenous Scottish criminals.
The SCDEA mapping exercise of autumn 2011 – the latest in a series –showed the number of crime groups had fallen, from 360 reported in the Sunday Herald last June, to 267. However, the total number of "nominals" or known gangsters remains around 4000, we can reveal.
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, formerly director-general of the SCDEA, said: "It has always been the case that foreign crime groups have had a foothold in Scotland; the Italians and West Africans up in Aberdeen and the Columbians in Edinburgh. I am not surprised my former colleagues at SCDEA have identified an Albanian group. Their presence in London and up through the Midlands is well-recognised.
"The Albanians are a bit of challenge because they have a military background in their homelands and their criminal elements have a very violent history. They are very difficult groups to penetrate."