Having a second home in Aberdeen, Europe’s energy capital, is a profitable business.
House prices in the city are rising at a rate of £5,000 a month, making property the safest of investments for those who are basking in the riches that oil and gas have given Scotland’s north-east corner.
It is the place the recession forgot, where good engineers can pick up signing-on fees akin to Premier League footballers just for moving companies.
But it’s not just about the money – the region’s beauty and slower pace of life have seen Donald Trump and the Queen make the city and its surrounding area their home from home.
But unbeknown to most, apparently so has the Mafia.
An EU-funded report claims that Aberdeen is a stronghold for Italy’s deadly Camorra syndicate, a loose affiliation of family crime networks believed to be responsible for more than 3,600 deaths since 1975 – more than the IRA, the Basque separatists Eta or their Sicilian counterparts, La Cosa Nostra.
The Transcrime research centre will publish its full report later this year, but early details have been released by Italian politician Oreste Rossi, who has been campaigning for tougher laws to clamp down on Mafia money laundering across Europe.
“The Camorra stronghold is Aberdeen, the third most populous city in Scotland, where it controls the catering, public works, food retail and wholesale and property sectors,” Mr Rossi says in the report.
To put this into context, Aberdeen is relatively crime free. Aside from Scottish Midlands drug gangs looking to cash in on young people with money to burn, it is not plagued by the same level of organised crime as Glasgow or the capital, Edinburgh. So the revelation that the Mafia is in town should have shocked the city’s folk to the core. But it didn’t.
Barney Crockett, who until May was the political leader of the city council, said the Mafia’s presence was no secret. “I think the attraction of Aberdeen is the fact that they can swap over a lot of money, because it is such a busy business environment,” he told me after the report came to light. “However, I am totally confident that there is no involvement in public works of any description.”
I have lived here all of my 29 years, the last four in senior roles at the city’s Press and Journal newspaper.
Have I ever had to write stories about Mafia bloodshed? No – but the Camorra has made the headlines here in the past.
Roberto Saviano, whose book inspired the film Gamorrah, believes the Mafia has been operating in the city since the 1980s.
In 2005, the restaurateur Antonio La Torre was arrested and later jailed for 13 years in Italy for extortion and racketeering. He is the brother of the gang’s former boss, Augusto La Torre, who later confessed to murdering 40 people in Italy.
Antonio had moved to Aberdeen in 1984 to open Pavarotti’s, an Italian eatery in the city centre which was allegedly used as a base to launder money.
Raffaele Cantone, the prosecutor who helped bring the La Torre clan to justice, described Scotland as the “perfect HQ”, because it was safe and quiet. However, the suggestion that the city remains in the grip of mobsters has been denied strongly by Italians in Aberdeen, who claim that it is an insult to the city’s 600-strong community.
Nino Lepre, a restaurateur originally from Naples, dismissed the claims and said he feared the report could lead to “racial discrimination”.
“I have been in Aberdeen for 17 years and my brother has been here for 23 years and is married to a Scottish woman,” he said.
“In all my time here I’ve never been approached or threatened by anyone saying they were from the Mafia.
“There was a story about a gangster here many years ago, but I only know about these things from reading them in the newspaper. In Italy there is no denying that there is a problem with the Mafia but I don’t see that situation in Aberdeen, honestly.
“For me it doesn’t make sense for a big gangster to come to Aberdeen when he could be relaxing on a sunny beach with a bottle of beer and a cigarette. We are sick and tired of people thinking we are Mafia because we are Italians.”
His fears appear to be backed up by the case of Ciro Schiattarella, another Aberdeen restaurant boss who was extradited to Italy to face Mafia-related charges.He spent three months in the notorious Busto Arsizio prison in Varese, northern Italy, before being released.
Mr Schiattarella said that the allegations – which were later downgraded to charges related to the bankruptcy of a company – had cost him everything.
The 61-year-old had to give up his restaurant and house to fight the charges. He now works as a chef and lives in a council house.
He had been working for a company linked to La Torre before his arrest, which he believes led to his implication. He said Italian prosecutors tried to “destroy him”.
“I would put my head on the block and say categorically that there is no Mafia in Aberdeen,” he said.
“I have lived here for 35 years – Aberdeen is one of the safest cities in Europe.”
The Scottish police also say there is no intelligence to support the report’s comments, but the paper has left many politicians feeling uneasy.
Former MEP Struan Stevenson, said the claims were “absolutely staggering”, while current Brussels member Ian Duncan is seeking urgent talks with police.
“It is well known that criminal gangs in Scotland use legitimate business operations to turn their dirty money into clean money,” he said. “Aberdeen is booming and the last thing the north-east of Scotland needs is criminal elements blighting society.
“Wherever there is organised crime there is human suffering, and we must take a firm stand against those who would seek to exploit and abuse the vulnerable.”Reuse content