Portugal: Police dismantle international tobacco smuggling network in Portugal, Spain

A network of international tobacco smuggling in Portugal and Spain was dismantled, with 23 people detained on suspicion of having damaged “both countries by about four million euros”, the GNR announced on Tuesday.

Dubbed Operation Iberian Tobacco, the police operation took place between Wednesday and Monday and resulted in the ” detention of 16 men and one woman, aged between 44 and 65 years,” of which 12 are Spanish and five are Portuguese, with the detentions taking place in the Portuguese cities of Braga, Guimarães, Porto, Lisbon and Setúbal and in the Spanish city of Seville, said the commander of the Lisbon Fiscal Action Detachment of the National Republican Guard (GNR), Captain Helder Fernandes to Lusa.

During the investigation, which has been ongoing for about a year, five other people had already been detained, including one Portuguese national and four Spaniards, making a total of 23 detainees, because they were directly related to the practice of illegal commercialisation of cigarettes and other tobacco products in Portugal and Spain, without paying the taxes due to the respective states, such as excise duty and VAT.

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”.

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 computers”, 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 are “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”.

Presented for first judicial questioning on Thursday and Friday at the Almada Judicial Court, all the detainees of Portuguese nationality were subject to the “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 coercive measures have been applied.