A Tory minister has claimed Peterhead would make an "ideal' freeport.

Colin Clark, the Scottish Office minister, said the struggling fishing town was in a "very strong position" to get special tax haven status.

His prime minister, Boris Johnson, first mooted freeports when he came to office, sparking grave concerns from the European Union and anti-organised crime campaigners.

The European Commission last month listed freeports among other policies -  including golden visa schemes - which were "potentially vulnerable to money laundering or terrorism financing".

European Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová said freeports were “the new emerging threat”, adding: “This is something we want to focus more on.”

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Critics say that organised crime, smuggling, trafficking and money-laundering all thrive in freeports, where tax and regulation are limited to encourage enterprise. 

Mr Johnson's freeport policy has come to symbolise widespread fears within other EU nations that the UK could become a greater centre of offshore finance and money-laundering after Brexit.

Howerver, Mr Johnson believes six such UK ports would create and thousands of jobs. There are scores of freeports around Europe and the world but they remain highly controversial. Concerns vary, depending on how lax tax and regulatory regimes are. 

Both Peterhead and Aberdeen have been suggested as a potential site for a freeport. Mr Clark, who represents nearby Gordon after defeating Alex Salmond to take the seat, said Peterhead was the frontrunner.

According to The Press and Journal, he said: "It is ideal for the fishing industry, the processing side, as well as oil and gas, which is now going in the direction of renewables.

"We are at the very early stages with regards to the freeport idea for Peterhead.

"It is for the port itself to apply and present their best business case but I thin Peterhead has a very strong position.

"It is becoming the key European fishing port.

"Logistically, there's also a great deal of land around which can be developed in this area, unlike Aberdeen harbour, which is surrounded already."

Another Tory, Ross Thomson, told the P&J he would campaign for Aberdeen to get the special status.

The SNP MP Douglas Chapman acknowledged risks with freeports, but said he was looking at supporting one in his constituency, at Rosyth.

He tweeted: "Freeports do come with challenges but not a reason to ignore economic potential to boost areas where there is availability of land and access to port facilities.

"I’ve already put Rosyth in the frame and been working for past two years with the All-Party Parliamentary Group Freeports to progress."

HeraldScotland: Tory MSP Ross Thomson

Ross Thomson

Britain introduced some freeports in the 1980s - including at Prestwick Airport - but their licences were phased out. There is still one on the Isle of Man. The Republic of Ireland has a long-standing one at Shannon Airport.

A recent academic study suggested any net positive impact from freeports would be small - but such schemes are seen as a way of moving activity to less economically successful parts of a country.

The study, by the University of Sussex, concluded: "Any economic benefits brought to free zones could simply be diverting economic activity from elsewhere. In the US their main impact has been to promote imports."