Scottish Daily Mail
Do Mob goons really run the Granite City?
An Italian judge warns the tentacles of organised crime reach all the way from Naples to Aberdeen, making the city a key outpost of the feared Camorra
Aberdeen it appears to have been money-laundering.
‘there are a lot of grey areas, there is a lot of blurring and there is a lot of sensationalism around the issue. It is clear from my experience that there has been stuff going on in Aberdeen.’
She adds: ‘We have these perceptions of Italian organised crime, with the big mama and blood all over the streets. that is what we expect to find and, if we don’t find it, we think it means it is not there.’
What Antonio la torre undoubtedly found in Aberdeen when he arrived there in 1984 was a place where his mafia connections were not known. He was, after all, wanted in Italy on a string of charges including mafia association and firearms offences.
THere was a more prosaic reason for basing himself in the Granite City than the golden opportunities it offered for money-laundering. His wife, Gillian Fraser, was from there. Basing themselves in a flat above a butcher’s shop in Aberdeen’s rosemount Place, the la torres were an outwardly normal, respectable couple with a young family. He opened two restaurants in the city – Sorrento and Pavarotti’s, the latter particularly noted for its seafood risotto.
But behind the scenes la torre was the financial brains behind one of the most powerful families in the Neapolitan- organised crime network.
Prosecutor Mr Cantone, who helped to bring the clan to justice, revealed: ‘ Without ever leaving Scotland, Antonio la torre was able to force shopkeepers and small businessmen thousands of miles away to pay protection money.’ He said la torre’s financial scams netted his f amily, headed by Antonio’s brutal brother Augusto, a fortune in Italy.
Setting up phantom companies in Scotland and in Italy, la torre obtained bank loans to buy goods from the Campania region to export to the UK. As soon as the cash arrived in the phantom firms’ coffers, la torre bankrupted them and diverted the money elsewhere. that way, he received both the cash and the goods, which he then sold on.
Mr Cantone said later: ‘It was a lucrative activity – goods had not been paid for and could be sold off in Scotland at prices well below those of the competition.
‘the clan’s activities in Scotland were extremely varied, from the exporting of frozen fish to the running of restaurants and to services connected to the world of oil refineries. the clan was also involved in the illegal, but very lucrative, trading of high-powered cars.’
la torre’s long sojourn in Aberdeen was interrupted in 1996 when he was arrested in Amsterdam and returned to Italy, where he was jailed for four years on outstanding charges from more than a decade earlier.
But he was free after 15 months and a legal order forcing him to remain in Italy was overturned by a tribunal, which ruled he no longer presented any threat.
So he returned to Aberdeen and carried on where he left off. While there were occasional visits to Italy to do business in person, most of it was conducted on the telephone using a series of codewords. Money was referred to as ‘sausages’ while banking deals were simply called ‘movements’.
ItAlIAN police turned up the heat on the la torres in 2004 after Augusto – thought to be the head of the family – cooperated with detectives and admitted the Camorra’s involvement in more than 20 murders. He was jailed, leaving Aberdeen-based Antonio as the new ‘godfather’ and the subject of intense scrutiny.
It was a trip home to southern Italy which sealed his fate. After being caught issuing threats to shopkeepers, he fled back to Scotland as an Italian court sentenced him to 13 years for extortion, robbery, racketeering and fraud in his absence.
An international arrest warrant was granted in 2005 and la torre went into hiding, moving between safe houses provided by friends in Dundee, Inverness and Stirling.
In his quest to avoid capture, he sold his business in Aberdeen but, ultimately, there was no escaping the net fast tightening around him.
Helped by Grampian Police, Italian detectives arrested him in March 2005 and returned him to his native land to serve the sentence imposed in his absence.
His wife later claimed he had led a crime-free life in Aberdeen, saying: ‘I believe he is innocent. He went to jail because of his association with his brother. He is paying for someone else’s bits and pieces.’
But she added: ‘I do not see him now. I do not write to him and I do not want to get involved. I am a hardworking woman from a decent family. I have not had so much as a parking ticket.’
In the wake of la torre’s arrest, his cousin, Michele Siciliano, was picked up, returned to Italy and jailed – while Ciro Schiattarella, who ran Ciro’s pizzeria in Aberdeen, was also extradited on suspicion of running ‘the firm’ in la torre’s absence.
Seven years later, and now back in Aberdeen having been convicted of no crime, Mr Schiattarella says the mafia-related charges ruined his life.
He said he spent three months after his arrest in the notorious Busto Arsizio Prison in varese, northern Italy, and had to give up his house and his restaurant to fight the charges.
DISMISSING claims that mafia figures continue to conduct business in Aberdeen, he says: ‘I have lived here for 35 years. Aberdeen is one of the safest cities in europe.’
Many in the city’s business community are inclined to agree, viewing the headline-grabbing claims of MeP Mr rossi as faintly preposterous. Martin Callan, managing director of commercial property developer Cromdale ltd, says there are ‘ no horses’ heads i n the freezer’.
He adds: ‘I have never once come across any Italian influence on any deal and we are one of the larger developers in Aberdeen.’
And Stewart Spence, owner of the five star Marcliffe Hotel, says: ‘I have been in Aberdeen all my life, owning hotels and restaurants, and I have never heard anything about that ever. I remember la torre when he had his restaurant in Aberdeen and he was a lovely guy.’
Nor is Police Scotland prepared to concede the presence of any mafia influence in Aberdeen. A spokesman said there was ‘no intelligence’ to support the report’s claims.
yet the Italian consulate in edinburgh is less dismissive. A spokesman said: ‘It is a well-established fact that organised crime groups, including Camorra, nowadays operate on a world scale.
‘there is probably no reason to rule out their presence in any specific country or area – including, of course, Aberdeen in Scotland.’
He added: ‘Italy is promoting a co- ordinated effort among eU countries in this respect and therefore we welcome any report or investigation that casts light on the problem.’
Glasgow’s most ferocious gangland figures have long dined out on their own mafia-inspired mythology. How bitterly ironic it would be if the real thing has been quietly taking care of business without spilling a drop of blood, only 150 miles up the road.