Roll-your-own-tobacco smuggling gang dismantled after raids across Portugal and Spain

July 09, 2021
Border2

An organized criminal group exporting illegal tobacco from Spain to Portugal has been thwarted by a cross-border team of customs and law enforcement officials.

With the support of Europol, the Portuguese Republican National Guard and the Spanish Civil Guard successfully dismantled a prominent criminal gang involved in smuggling large quantities of tobacco across the Spanish-Portuguese border. The investigation also involved the cooperation of the Spanish Customs Surveillance Service. 

According to Europol, 63 simultaneous searches—59 in Portugal and four in Spain—took place on June 24. These searches led to the arrest of eight smugglers: Spanish and Portuguese nationals, aged between 33 and 49 years old. 

Goods seized during the raids included: 

- 11 tons of tobacco leaf and fine-cut tobacco

- 90,000 manufactured illegal cigarettes 

- 186,500 cigarette filters

Sources say that the amount of tobacco taken was enough to produce 11 million cigarettes, worth more than €2.7 million. 

The smuggling network was importing goods from Spain to Portugal that were destined to produce both cigarettes and tobacco for roll-your-own cigarettes. Ultimately, these products were to be distributed though the Portuguese black market. 

The perpetrators were managing the import of the tobacco through several companies established with the sole purpose of committing excise fraud. Cutting and processing facilities had been set up in Spain. From there, the tobacco was shipped to Portugal. Upon arrival, it was stored in different warehouses until it could be distributed further. 

The joint investigation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), a security initiative driven by EU member states to identify, prioritize, and address threats posed by organized and serious international crime.

This raid took place the very same day it was revealed that total illicit cigarette consumption increased across the European Union in 2020, according to KPMG’s latest report. Notably, the report—analyzing the consumption and flows of illicit cigarettes in the EU, Norway, Switzerland, and U.K.—found that counterfeit cigarette consumption had surged by 87% last year.

Illicit tobacco trade has a serious impact on tax revenue. The revenue loss generated by tobacco products illegally imported from Spain into Portugal is estimated at more than €2 million annually.

Cross-border collaboration

Europol played an important role in the investigation and the lead-up to the day of the raids, bringing together investigators from Spain and Portugal. Since Europol first facilitated the joint efforts, these authorities have been working closely together to establish a united strategy to bring down the network.

Europol also provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. For example, experts from Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) were deployed in Lisbon and Salamanca to assist the Spanish and Portuguese authorities with the cross-checking of operational information.

This operation signifies an important milestone for both Spanish and Portuguese law enforcement—and it is thanks in large part to Europol’s efforts. Further, it is a striking demonstration that finding criminals who are not limited by borders requires a collaborative approach, both multi-nationally and across agencies.

STOP ILLEGAL

Written by STOP: ILLEGAL

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