NINE out of ten Scots do not see the sale of counterfeit goods as linked to organised crime, a new study has revealed.
The finding is worrying for police and other crime fighters who believe trade in fake goods is often used to fund more serious wrongdoing such as drug smuggling and extortion.
The survey, commissioned by the Scottish Government, is the first time communities in Scotland have been surveyed on the issue.
In the last year, police and customs officers in Edinburgh have launched major raids in a bid to crack down on black market alcohol and tobacco.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “We know that serious organised criminals in Scotland will be tenacious in exploiting every avenue in human misery to make money from their illegal doings.
“Buying fake designer handbags, watches and sunglasses might be seen as a victimless way to get something desirable on the cheap, but there is no doubt that many of these items have a long back story of criminality, often involving violence.”
Just a few weeks ago, police in Edinburgh warned black market traders were flooding the city with “unprecedented” levels of cut-price vodka. And in a major blitz on rogue retailers in the Capital, 49 outlets were targeted with six being hauled before licensing chiefs.
Shopkeepers were warned that anyone found to be selling counterfeit or untaxed alcohol could in future face having their licence revoked – and even first time offenders are in the firing line.
In May, almost 5700 litres of beer, wine and spirits were seized by HM Revenue and Customs as alcohol taskforce officers targeted illegal sales across Scotland.
Thousands of pounds of counterfeit goods were among assets seized when six weeks of intelligence gathering culminated in a 48-hour operation in March which saw 44 arrests in Lothian and Borders as part of the “Made From Crime?” initiative.
And last year four wine stores in the Capital lost their alcohol licences over claims staff sold stolen goods to customers.
The Top Cellar chain was handed a four-month ban following an investigation by police and trading standards officers. Around 14,000 counterfeit cigarettes were also said to have been found at three of the four premises.
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingston said: “Combating serious organised crime is a key priority for Police Scotland. Targeting the structures of organised crime, attacking the mechanisms through which criminals make illegal profits and preventing communities being undermined by it is a core function of the specialist crime division.”
Violent crime at 38-year low
Organised crime is seen a serious problem across Scotland by 84 per cent of the population, according to the Scottish Government-commissioned report, Public Perceptions of Organised Crime.
One in four think the issue is serious in their own neighbourhoods, while one in ten say they have been personally affected by organised crime in the past three years.
The study also shows 72 per cent of people associate drug dealing and trafficking with the term “organised crime”, followed by money laundering, people trafficking and prostitution.
The Scottish Government pointed out violent crime was at a 38-year low and overall crime is at its lowest levels in almost 40 years.