Nov 20 2007
By Tom Hamilton
A TOP cop last night told of his fears that Scotland has become a haven for drug-running Triad gangs.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stevie Whitelock, head of intelligence at Strathclyde Police, said: “Organised criminals have turned Scotland into a cannabis greenhouse.”
Up to £1billion of the drug is being cultivated every year in houses and warehouses converted into drug farms by a large-scale organised crime gang linked to south-east Asia.
The farms are manned by illegal immigrants, locked in properties 24 hours a day, in temperatures exceeding 38C.
In the past 12 months, 33,000 plants worth £40million have been seized.
But police say this is just the tip of the iceberg.
They believe much of the cannabis is being exported overseas by the Chinese-Vietnamese crime group.
Law enforcement sources also believe the profits are being channeled back to south-east Asia where the cash is laundered in tourism.
Mr Whitelock said: “In addition to being a consumer market for drugs, Scotland has become a drug producer.”
In the past 12 months, 61 cannabis factories have been busted in Strathclyde alone, with 70 in Scotland in total, resulting in 51 arrests.
But there is no evidence of the cannabis being sold on the streets of Scotland.
Mr Whitelock said: “It has been sent elsewhere. We are producing cannabis for the UK, Europe and probably further a field.
“In effect, organised crime groups are using Scotland as a greenhouse.”
The Scots-grown cannabis contains almost seven times more of the dangerous chemical THC than foreign imports.
And while seizures are up, it is feared huge quantities – up to £1billion a year – are exported undiscovered.
The industry has shown a remarkable growth since a cannabis farm was found in the Kilmarnock area last year.
Within a short time, there were more busts in Lanarkshire, Paisley and Glasgow.
The farms are often in quiet suburban areas, typically on new housing estates.
Mr Whitelock said: “They are very shrewd. They are using new houses in suburban areas where there’s often no sense of neighbourhood.
“They rent properties for six months, pay cash up front to the landlord and invest £20 to £30,000 on equipment.
“Then they bring in the Vietnamese farmers.
“Some know what they’re coming for. Others come here thinking they have a promise of a legitimate job and end up being modern-day slaves.”
Police are confident the same crime group is responsible because of similarities in electrical work and joinery they have found in their raids.
The cannabis farms need vast amounts of heat and light.
The gang’s electrical specialists plug directly into the mains supply – stealing electricity from the suppliers.
Mr Whitelock added: “They use around 20 times the power used for a normal house to grow the cannabis.
The cost to power companies is thought to be around £2million a year.
“They have to recover the money some way. And that affects everyone – because it goes on everyone’s power bill.”
The costs to landlords are also immense because the farmers cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to the rented properties.
The intelligence chief said: “When they pack up, they leave the interior of the house like a demolition site.”
So far, two key players in the gang have been jailed.
Sai Yau Shek, 53 – who ran operations in Ayrshire – has been caged for three years and nine months. And Jian He, 29, who has links with Triad gangs, was recently sentenced to five years and three months.
The group have also spread their tentacles into illegal trafficking of women sex slaves and the supply and sale of counterfeit DVDs.
Operation League – aiming to tackle cannabis cultivators – is now entering its second year.
Mr Whitelock added: “They have no respect for life. There has been great progress.
“But we will not let up. There can be no complacency.” He says the public response has been astonishing.
He added: “Of the 61 raids, a third have been due to people calling and mentioning Operation League specifically.”
There are signs that profits are being laundered into legitimate businesses.
A source said: “There have been substantial quantities of our bank notes in Vietnam.
“There is only one conclusion, given the scale of the Scottish cannabis farmers.
“Investigators believe cash from Scotland is being cleaned through investment in Vietnam’s tourist industry.”