Dubbed Operation Iberian Tobacco, the police action took place between 7 and 12 July and resulted in the “arrest of 16 men and one woman, aged between 44 and 65 years,” of which 12 are Spanish and five are Portuguese. The arrests occurred in the Portuguese cities of Braga, Guimarães, Porto, Lisbon and Setúbal and in the Spanish city of Seville, said the Commander of the Fiscal Action Detachment of Lisbon of the National Republican Guard (GNR), Captain Helder Fernandes.

During the investigation, which has been ongoing for about a year, five other people had already been arrested, including one Portuguese national and four Spaniards, making a total of 23 detainees, because they were directly related to the practice of illicit activities under investigation, said the commander of the GNR.

The operation was carried out over the last few days, on national and Spanish territory, by the GNR Tax Action Unit (UAF), through the Lisbon Tax Action Detachment and under the direction of the Department of Investigation and Penal Action (DIAP) in Almada, in collaboration with the National Corps of the Spanish Police, the Spanish Tax Agency and with operational support from EUROPOL.

The police investigation began about a year ago, and it was possible to gather information about the group’s modus operandi and “dismantle a vast organised network with an international dimension, with the identification of the Portuguese and Spanish suspects involved, which was dedicated to the illegal commercialisation of cigarettes and other tobacco products in Portugal and Spain, without paying the taxes due to the respective states, such as excise tax and VAT”, the GNR said in a statement.

According to the security force, the aim of the operation was to put an end to the logistical bases for storage, treatment, packaging and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as to “put an end to the criminal activity in progress, which is presumed to have damaged the economic interests of both countries by about four million Euros”.

In this context, the police authorities carried out 70 search warrants on national territory and 12 in Spain, of which 32 were house searches and 50 non-house searches, including warehouses, garages and vehicles.

Among the material seized were around 454,000 manufactured cigarettes; around eight tonnes of tobacco leaf and fine-cut tobacco (enough to produce around eight million cigarettes); various machines used for drying, crushing and packing tobacco products; various raw materials used in illicit production, such as cigarette tubes, pack cartons and bags/boxes for packing tobacco; and seven firearms.

Also seized were “116,000 Euros in cash; 100,000 Euros seized in bank accounts; 24 light vehicles and various computer equipment”, the GNR indicated, adding that, throughout the investigation, “a total of 1,825,120 cigarettes and 11 tonnes of other tobacco products (tobacco leaf and ground tobacco) were also seized”.

According to the GNR, in terms of international judicial cooperation, the operation relied on the intervention of EUROJUST to speed up procedural steps.

In addition to the total of 23 detainees, 17 defendants of Portuguese nationality were also “accused of the practice of facts likely to constitute the crime of smuggling, fraudulent introduction of qualified consumption, qualified tax fraud, money laundering and receipt of goods subject to customs crime,” pointed out this security force.

Presented for first judicial questioning at the Almada Judicial Court, all the detainees of Portuguese nationality were subject to the measures of coercion of “obligation to make weekly presentations at the police station in the area of their residence, as well as the prohibition of contact with the other defendants,” according to information from the GNR.

The Spanish detainees are under the jurisdiction of the Spanish authorities, and for the moment it is not known what coercion measures have been applied.

About 160 personnel from the UAF, the Intervention Unit (UI) and the Territorial Commands of Setúbal, Lisbon, Porto, Braga and Viana do Castelo were mobilised as part of the Iberian Tobacco operation.