In a statement, the Public Ministry said the defendants identified abandoned land, due to the absence or death of the owners, to then invoke their ownership using usucaption - a legal instrument that recognises property by its continued and uncontested use over time - and put them on the market for sale.

“One of the defendants was remanded in pre-trial detention, another defendant was imposed with a partial ban on exercising his profession and a ban on contacts with the other defendants, the remaining defendants were subject to a restraining order prohibiting contacts between them and from leaving the Algarve,” the note reads.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the criminal activity had been going on since 2018, and the defendants, in a concerted manner, “located the land, mainly in the parish of Santa Bárbara de Nexe, but also in other areas of the municipalities of Faro, Olhão and Tavira”.

Others of the accused “arrogated to themselves that they owned the land”, and others “served as witnesses in the deeds of justification for registering the supposed property”, the statement published on the website of the Faro district attorney’s office said.

The seven detainees - five men, aged between 50 and 68, and two women, aged 36 and 52 - are suspected of committing the crimes of qualified fraud, qualified false declarations and falsification of a qualified document.

The investigation into the case will continue.

The operation has already made it possible to identify 25 properties that had been usurped by the suspects from their rightful owners.