AT least 25 foreign crime gangs are operating in Scotland, according to investigations by the country’s equivalent of the FBI.
Detectives are said to be particularly concerned about the arrival of the “ultra-violent” Albanian mafia.
Gangsters from the impoverished Balkan state have muscled in to Scotland’s drug and vice trades, according to the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA).
The crime-fighting body ranks ethnic Albanian groups as among the “non-indigenous” gangsters posing the greatest threat.
Foreign gangs now make up almost 10% of all crime groups operating north of the border, according to work by the SCDEA.
They have identified 267 organised crime groups, of which at least 25 are from abroad.
Other nationalities include Chinese gangs behind cannabis farms and bootleg DVDs, Bangladeshis and Czechs involved in people smuggling, and Yardies from the Caribbean who specialise in selling crack and running prostitutes.
But it is Albanian gangs – known as the Mafia Shqiptare – that are causing particular concern.
The gangs are said to have been brutalised by the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s and sit on worldwide trade routes for guns, drugs and women.
The Mafia Shqiptare are believed to have taken over the sex trade in London’s Soho district and even reduced the power of the feared Italian Mafia in their own areas.
Stephen Whitelock, a Detective Chief Superintendent with the 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.
“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 know to be involved in prostitution, arms and drugs. They have been flagged up in our mapping exercise.”
He added: “We have a list of the top 20% most serious organised crime groups and, each of which is in the ownership of one of the forces or the agency. The Albanians are on that list.”
It is thought Albanian crime families arrived in the UK in the aftermath of the 1999 Kosovo war. The families are relatively small but strongly bonded by a code of honour and blood feuds.
As long ago as 2003, Luan Plakici, an Albanian from Montenegro, was jailed in Scotland for 10 years for trafficking women from Moldova.
Former SCDEA boss Graeme Pearson, now a Labour MSP, said: “The Albanians are a bit of a 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.”