SCOTLAND’s authorities are liaising with Interpol to crack down on Mafia-style gangs which have muscled in on the country’s lucrative illegal waste industry.
The illegal trade was worth about £27 million last year, MSPs were told today.
About 20 per cent of all criminal gangs, including some of the “top tier criminals” in Scotland, are linked to waste firms, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Gangs use violence to secure waste disposal contracts, cut corners and fiddle taxes using similar tactics to Mafia clans in southern Italy, Holyrood’s justice committee was told.
Sepa is liaising with international crime organisations to tackle the problem.
Committee convener Christine Grahame said: “People just don’t believe that we have like a McMafia here – serious organised crime perhaps is so clever in Scotland that they don’t think it’s happening at that level.”
Sepa national waste and enforcement manager William Wilson said: “Is Scotland a soft touch? I would say not. Is there more to be done? Definitely. How do we compare with other countries? Better than a number.
“Italy has a well-entrenched problem with Mafia clans, particularly within the waste sector.
“They have seen the export of that criminal model beyond the Italian borders, into eastern Europe in particular.
“We as an agency are in touch with Interpol and Europol and we are anxious to take part in initiatives that will look to learn from best practice and maybe the bitter experience of other countries and share that.”
Sepa is analysing why waste is such an attractive option for organised crime, and what types of waste in particular.
One tactic involves mixing low-tax waste which costs £2.50 a tonne with high-tax waste which costs £80 a tonne to dispose of, to avoid paying tax.
A major conference is to be staged on the issue in November which will be addressed by Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, and the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC.
Sepa will embed an intelligence officer within the police to support the targeting of criminal gangs in the waste industry.
Stephen Freeland, policy executive at the Scottish Environment Services Association, said: “I see five types of sites. You’ve either got a fully illegal landfill site; an illegal recycling operation; you’ve got a licensed site that is deliberately abusing its conditions for financial gain; you’ve also got a licensed site operating as a front for illegal activity; and you’ve got a fifth one with deliberate misclassification of materials to benefit from lower tax rates.”
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Ruaridh Nicolson said: “Organised crime is unlikely just to be involved in environmental crime.
“They will have firearms, drugs, everything else you can think of. They are about making money, so it’s about the threat, risk and harm to communities.
“They will use violence, that is their competitive advantage. So they undermine, or they undercut, contracts in terms of finance, but they also use violence and other facets to make sure that they get these contracts.”