CONTROVERSIAL anti-mafia powers could be introduced in Scotland after government officials opened talks with their Italian counterparts.
Talks are currently ongoing to see how well the powers have worked in Italy, and how they comply with EU laws, The Scotsman understands.
Scottish police officers have visited Rome to see anti-mafia teams and believe the measures could be beneficial here.
Special certificates issued to legitimate firms are designed to drive organised crime out of public-sector contracts, which has been a growing concern for Scottish police in recent years.
In Scotland, this is likely to include taxis and private hire vehicles, security, elements of construction, and property management and development.
Anti-mafia certificates were discussed at the most recent meeting of the serious and organised crime taskforce in January.
Police said they were keen on the model in June, but admit it could prove controversial, especially as people under investigation, but not convicted of a crime, could find themselves blocked from contracts.
Detective Chief Inspector Ronnie Megaughin, head of interventions at the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said: “One of the most important elements of this is understanding how anti-mafia legislation provides compliance for the Italian government in terms of the EU.
“Our understanding is that companies can’t be excluded on any basis that is less than evidence of conviction of offences.
“In Italy, it’s a different position. Any company that applies for public contracts over a certain threshold has to obtain an anti-mafia certificate.
“They are only issued where there’s no record of anti-mafia specialist measures against the company or people associated with the company. That includes confiscation of assets before conviction. So you can just be under investigation.”
In Italy, particularly the south of the country, the mafia’s involvement in legitimate businesses is a historic problem.While anti-mafia powers have not been a silver bullet, they are now seen as indispensable by crime-fighting organisations there.
DCI Megaughin said: “I personally visited the anti-mafia directive in Italy and spoke to people there. Their view is it is an absolute necessity.
“In Scotland, we’re very much alive to the threat organised crime poses to legitimate businesses and the community.”
However, there are concerns innocent people could lose their livelihoods because of police intelligence which later proves to be wrong.
John Scott, QC, a leading human rights lawyer, said: “This is the logical next step in the way we have been heading when it comes to serious and organised crime.
“In particular, it is consistent with the use of the civil courts to try and stop criminals from operating, but it is a human rights minefield for the police and Crown.
“We’re inching closer to the stage where it becomes more likely that entirely innocent individuals or companies get caught up in an investigation and then their business ceases to be able to trade, and a claim goes in against the police or Crown.”