Drug gangs change tactics as downturn ruins their fortunes
DRUG traffickers and other organised gangsters have lost millions of euro as a result of the recession.
A huge fall-off in demand for cocaine, allied to a series of dodgy investments in property and shares, have devastated the lucrative nest eggs they had built up during the boom times.
Now the criminals are switching their focus in a bid to recover some of their losses and tap into new areas.
Dozens of Irish gangsters have become heavily immersed in the European scene and are no longer confining their activities to sending drug shipments back to Ireland.
They have developed their range of contacts in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium and are using these to buy into shipments intended for destinations with much larger markets than here.
Gardai confirmed last night that the Irish are among the big players on the European scene and regularly show up on the radars of local police forces on the Continent.
"The Irish criminals have learned to follow the market and interact with other OCGs (organised crime gangs) to purchase large shipments and then become involved in selling on the drugs in smaller quantities," an officer explained.
"There is a lot of crossover among the gangs and there are no cell structures that might exist in a terrorist organisation.
"The Irish are acceptable as partners to become involved in joint enterprises with international gangs moving drugs from South America and west Africa to Spain and the Netherlands."
Detectives from the garda national Drugs unit work closely with their European counterparts to combat the gangs as they know that, despite the reduced demand, they will continue to send shipments here and these are likely to increase again when the market improves.
"The Irish picture is a reflection of what is happening globally. What is going on in the real economy is mirrored in the drugs world," the officer added.
"The spending power of the end user has diminished and the state of the economy dictates that some drug types become more popular."
A lot of people who were cocaine users can no longer afford to buy it, resulting in a big drop in demand and supply. The new drug of choice for many is herbal cannabis and the Irish gangs have discovered that's where the growth in the market lies although it took them some time to realise that the Chinese and Vietnamese gangs were ring fencing the new craze for growhouses.
It makes economic sense for the gangs to develop growhouses as they can eliminate transportation and logistical costs, increase profits by removing the European middlemen, reduce the risk of being caught by police and customs services here and in Europe and face lower penalties for cannabis rather than cocaine dealing.
The homegrown gangs have also suffered heavy financial losses as a result of advice from crooked accountants who advised them to invest in properties in countries like Bulgaria and Turkey or gamble on the stock exchange.
During the Celtic Tiger era, traffickers extended lines of credit to customers and drugs were given out "on tick". But now the credit has disappeared and a lot of the dealers have been left with huge debts.
The growhouses represent one of their main hopes of recovering some of those losses.