The changing face of gangland crime
THEY were Glasgow's hard men, feared and reviled by everyone they met and living up to their reputations as Scotland's most dangerous criminals. Each had a nickname as sharp as the blades they used: the Godfather, the Licensee, the Torturer.
But the sun has set on the empires each of them built up from protection rackets, armed robberies and extortion. Crime (UK) Ltd is under new management, and it is largely foreign owned. Police across Britain are grappling with a new generation of criminal "kingpins", whose empires span the globe and who model their operations on legitimate multinational companies.
While the "dons" of the past revelled in their notoriety, displaying their ill-gotten gains through sharp suits and flashy cars, today's gang leaders aim to be faceless "executives" as familiar with spreadsheets as their predecessors were with knuckle-dusters. Foreign nationals, including Russian, Albanian and Turkish migrs, now have a stranglehold on organised crime in the UK.
The authorities estimate there are 400 organised crime bosses in Britain, with an amassed criminal wealth of about 440 million.
So-called "dirty money", or assets derived from crime, represents a staggering 2 per cent of the UK's GDP, or 18 billion. And up to half of that is derived from illegal drug transactions.
Meanwhile, the economic and social costs of serious organised crime are estimated at between 20 billion and 40 billion a year – compared with the country's 30 billion defence budget.
Gordon Meldrum, director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said the profile of the criminal gang leader had changed, from a local hard man to an educated foreign criminal whose contacts spanned the globe.
"These people are entrepreneurial in nature and run criminal empires on business lines and see themselves as the chief executives," he said.
"They'll have a board of some kind and often have a structure to the organisation. There are a number of specialities that facilitate the crime groups…experts in transport, legal and legislative systems. The commodity could be heroin, people, firearms, money, drugs. They're interested in power and profit."
Abdullah Baybasin, 46, is an example of the new generation of "chief executive" running a multinational criminal enterprise. The head of a Turkish drug family, he was said to control 90 per cent of the heroin smuggled into Britain and was jailed for 22 years in May 2006. Police took five years to bring Baybasin and his gang to justice in an operation that involved painstaking surveillance of mobile telephone records and private correspondence before he could be arrested.
Another lead player was Tony Singh Hare, one of Britain's most prolific drug dealers, who was given a record sentence of 52 years in 2003. He was found guilty at Leicester Crown Court of drug-trafficking, conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and fraud. Hare, 37, had organised supplies of heroin, Ecstasy and cannabis to dealers in Scotland, north-east England, Nottingham and Derby.
The criminal landscape in Britain has become increasingly volatile in recent years. Previous generations of Italian, Maltese and English gangsters have given way to a new Mafia with its own "Kanun", a code of behaviour similar to the Sicilian "omerta".
Foreign traffickers have managed to infiltrate the British drugs market, but the lead suppliers remain in a state of flux. Smugglers of Pakistani origin are moving in on the heroin trade, which Turkish gangs dominated in the 1990s, while Yardie criminals with Jamaican connections control much of the UK's cannabis and crack trade. The reason for such turf wars is simple: the drugs trade in the UK has been estimated to be worth about 6.6 billion a year.
One consequence of the new global market is that Scottish criminals are now going further afield. Mr Meldrum said: "Organised crime groups from Scotland are going into central Europe and missing out the middle man. They broker the deal themselves, and go directly to South America and Europe."
A recent two-year operation led by the SCDEA's predecessor, the SDEA, culminated in eight tonnes of cannabis being recovered from a British-registered trawler intercepted off the west coast of Spain. It involved months of surveillance, and Spanish police, Europol, Customs and the National Crime Squad all worked with the SDEA to capture the men behind it.
Officers seized 61 million worth of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and arrested nine men in the UK and Spain. The ringleader, John Gorman, from Ayrshire, was given a 12-year sentence after he was found guilty of being involved in the supply of drugs with a street value of more than 360,000 and laundering 178,000 of drug money.
These days "the commodity" for the crime bosses is anything that generates a profit – heroin, cocaine, firearms, people, child pornography and tobacco.
Global profits from people-smuggling are estimated to be 5 billion annually, and every 1 spent on heroin is estimated to generate about 4 of damage to the national economy.
The underworld bosses operate across global frontiers in tight-knit gangs, display in-depth knowledge of law enforcement methods and exploit sophisticated technologies to conceal their activities from the authorities.
The government hopes that British expertise in areas such as forensic accountancy will make it increasingly difficult for organised criminals to hide their money in legitimate businesses.
The changing face of organised crime in Scotland was highlighted recently when a senior police officer spoke of his fears that the country had become a haven for drug-running Triad gangs. Detective Chief Superintendent Stevie Whitelock, the head of intelligence at Strathclyde Police, said organised criminals had turned Scotland into a cannabis greenhouse. Up to 1 billion of the drug is being cultivated each year in houses and warehouses that are converted into drug farms by a large-scale organised crime gang linked to south-east Asia.
The farms are staffed by illegal immigrants, who are locked inside properties for 24 hours a day. In the past year, 33,000 plants worth 40 million have been seized. It is believed much of the cannabis is exported by Chinese-Vietnamese crime groups, with the profits being channelled back to south-east Asia, where the money is laundered in tourism.
Police have identified about 70 cannabis factories in Scotland since the summer of 2006. Most have been set up by Vietnamese and Chinese gangs, converting houses and warehouses into factories, mainly in west of Scotland suburbs. The factories are capable of producing tens of millions of pounds worth of the illicit crop.
In 2006, it was reported Scottish criminals were stepping up their connections with organised gangs across Europe, including the Mafia, to benefit from lucrative drugs and money- laundering schemes. There is evidence of growing co-operation between criminal gangs in Scotland and those based in eastern Europe and other parts of the Continent.
Emigration from eastern Europe has also led to a surge in the sex trade, which is increasingly run by Albanian and other Balkan criminals. According to Scotland Yard, about 75 per cent of brothels in London's Soho are controlled by Albanians, who annually make up to 12 million from 1,000 prostitutes.
But the problem is not confined to the south of England. Police launched Operation Pentameter 2 last October when it emerged that foreign nationals as young as 14 were being forced into sex slavery throughout the UK.
Strathclyde Police confirmed that a dozen live investigations were under way north of the Border, and it is estimated that in Scotland alone there are 6,000 foreign nationals working as prostitutes, many of them from eastern Europe and south-east Asia.
Scottish criminals are also working with gangs in Estonia and Latvia to launder money, because the banking stipulations and legislation in those countries are less stringent than they are in the UK.
The seriousness of the threat from organised crime is such that underworld bosses are to be targeted by tough new laws making it easier to convict "Mafia godfathers".
As part of a crackdown, Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has proposed new offences of directing or being involved in organised crime.
The planned new laws were endorsed recently at the second meeting of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, which brings together organisations such as the Crown Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the SCDEA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and the Scottish Prison Service.
The government is also planning to add new offences indicating a criminal lifestyle to the Proceeds of Crime Act, including bribery and corruption, and distribution of child and extreme pornography.
Key areas targeted by 'chief executives' of criminal gangs
ADULTS trafficked to the UK are used for sexual exploitation, cheap labour in agriculture and in the catering and construction industries. The main source countries are Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Malaysia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Women have been sold in the UK for between 2,000 and 3,000. There are an estimated 6,000 foreign nationals working as prostitutes in Scotland, many from eastern Europe and South-east Asia.
TRAFFICKING of Class A drugs continues to be the most visible form of serious organised crime, providing billions of pounds for the black economy. About 90 per cent of the UK's identified heroin supply originates in Afghanistan and most of the supply to Europe is processed in Turkey.
Colombia continues to dominate the global supply of cocaine, and Spain and the Netherlands are the main entry points into Europe.
Organised criminals have turned Scotland into a cannabis greenhouse, with up to 1 billion of the drug being cultivated every year.
CRIMINALS are dynamic in identifying new opportunities to commit fraud and ways to overcome security measures. Payment card crime is a good example, where the introduction of Chip and Pin has led to an increase in "card not present" (CNP) fraud, especially CNP fraud carried out via telephone transactions. There has also been an increase in cheque frauds, including counterfeit cheques. Changes in technology, particularly the growth of the internet, have been exploited to develop new crimes and transform traditional ones. Criminals have also demonstrated versatility in exploiting IT security weaknesses.
THE initial stage of money laundering often involves moving cash out of the UK through couriers or via various money transmission services. However, many serious organised criminals make use of IT experts, as well as financial and legal professionals to handle their affairs.
So-called "dirty money" – or assets derived from crime – represent around 2 per cent of the UK's GDP, or 18 billion – up to half of which is derived from illegal drug transactions.
THIS area underpins a lot of organised crime and allows people to conceal themselves, their activities and their assets and minimise the risk of detection. Some organised crime groups are known to produce, supply or use false personal identities.
The ability to communicate securely is essential, and criminals make extensive use of face-to-face meetings and pay-as-you-go mobile phones to conceal their illegal activity.
EXCISE fraudsters smuggle cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco into the UK. Most smuggled genuine cigarettes come from Cyprus, Greece, Poland and Russia concealed in lorries and containers. More than 50 per cent of all seized smuggled cigarettes are counterfeit. China is the main producer of counterfeit cigarettes, but counterfeit cigarette factories have emerged throughout the EU.
Up to 40 billion a year is the bill Britain is forced to pay because of crimes like drugs and prostitution
THE economic and social costs of organised crime in the UK are estimated to be at least 20-40 billion per year.
• There are about 400 organised crime bosses in the UK with an amassed criminal wealth of approximately 440 million.
• Global profits from people smuggling are estimated to be 5 billion annually.
• 280,000 problem drug users cause around half of all crime in the UK.
• Every 1 spent on heroin is estimated to generate about 4 of damage to the national economy.
• Assets derived from crime represent about 2 per cent of the UK's GDP, or 18 billion – up to half of which is derived from illegal drug transactions.
• Since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was implemented, more than 17 million has been recovered from criminal activity in Scotland.
• Up to 1 billion of cannabis is being cultivated every year in houses and warehouses converted into drug farms by a large-scale organised crime gangs linked to south-east Asia.
• Girls as young as 14 are being forced into sex slavery in the UK and Strathclyde Police confirmed recently that a dozen live investigations were under way north of the Border. It is estimated that in Scotland alone there are 6,000 foreign nationals working as prostitutes, many of them from eastern Europe and South-east Asia.
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