06 March 2007

Scotland: Vietnam gangs behind cannabis farm boom

Vietnamese organised crime is behind a sudden explosion of cannabis cultivation in Scotland in the past year, with more than 40 factories producing £5 million of the drug in the past nine months.

Graeme Pearson, head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), will today tell a drugs conference that cannabis cultivation in Scotland has gone from a "homespun cottage industry" to mass production lines overseen by Far Eastern "Mr Bigs". A network of Vietnamese gangs, responsible for mass cannabis production in North America and the south of England, is understood to have recruited members of the Chinese community in Scotland to set up dozens of factories across the country in recent months.

A big rise in cannabis cultivation in parts of England has already been witnessed in recent months, with the proceeds reinvested in other aspects of organised crime, including heroin, cocaine and firearms. Last week police disclosed the results of Operation League, a major cannabis-production crackdown, mainly in the west of Scotland, which has seen about 20 factories shut down. Police made several arrests during the operation, including Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, along with Scots.

But Mr Pearson will today tell a Scottish police conference on cannabis that the scale of the production is even higher. He told The Scotsman: "In the past year, cultivation in Scotland has gone from a baseline of almost nothing to a very substantial quantity. "More than 44 cultivations with a crop worth more than £5 million have been uncovered in the past six months. "It's gone from a homespun industry to a major production-line approach and is now big business. He said organised crime gangs had set up production "very quickly" in Scotland in the past year. "There is a Vietnamese and Chinese backdrop to many of these developments," he said.

Scots police were alerted to the problem by law-enforcement authorities in Canada, where Vietnamese and other Far Eastern gangs have seized almost total control of the cannabis market over the past five years. The criminals also moved into class A drugs and violent gang wars ensued. Cannabis production subsequently spread to mainland Europe and has now reached Scotland. Supplies of the Class C drug in the UK have traditionally come from countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Morocco and the Americas, but it is thought that around 60 per cent is now home-grown - compared with 10 per cent a decade ago.

Ian Latimer, chief constable of Northern Constabulary and president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, which has organised the two-day conference at Turnberry, said: "This new development emphasises the need for individual police forces to work closely with the SCDEA. "The significant number of arrests in the last nine months could not have been made without that partnership."

The Scotsman, 2 March 2007

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