By Chris King • 22 January 2023 • 20:15
Image of machinery seized during Operation FATACA.
Credit: Guardia Civil/Europol
As reported in a statement today, Sunday, January 22, Spain’s Guardia Civil, in collaboration with Europol, has smashed a massive criminal tobacco smuggling organisation. Three tobacco factories have been destroyed, with 27 individuals arrested.
Around 3.5 million packets of cigarettes without the relevant tax seals were confiscated. They had an estimated value of €17.5 million. Another 10,000 kilos of tobacco leaves, with a value of more than €20 million were also seized during ‘Operation FATACA’.
Investigators conducted 24 entries and searches at homes, industrial buildings and shops in the Spanish cities of Sevilla, Malaga, Cordoba, Madrid, Albacete, Valencia, Zaragoza and La Rioja.
The operation was initiated at the end of 2021, after the conclusion of ‘Operation Turkeys’. During this investigation, a clandestine tobacco factory was destroyed inside a chicken shed in the town of Los Corrales in Sevilla.
As a result, the police detected another criminal organisation that was moving large quantities of contraband tobacco. It had a very high level of activity throughout the national territory and in other neighbouring countries. For this reason, the Guardia Civil requested the collaboration of Europol to coordinate their operation.
Continuing with the investigations, it was soon revealed that the criminal organisation had two clearly differentiated modus operandi. These allowed its leaders to distribute and supply packets of tobacco without tax seals to the entire national territory and to other European countries.
They imported these packs via containers, introduced by various national and even international seaports. These tobacco products were introduced without declaring said merchandise before the customs authorities and therefore evaded the payment of the corresponding taxes (IIEE and VAT).
The group’s second, and main operation, was the clandestine manufacture of tobacco. This involved at least 3 factories assembled in Logroño, Valencia and Sevilla. Their locations allowed the organisation to supply packets of tobacco to all the provinces of Spain, while also distributing part of its production to other European countries.
Ukrainian nationals were found to be employed in these factories. They had moved to Spain in an irregular situation or under international protection due to the ongoing conflict in the country.
These workers lived in said facilities, crammed into prefabricated modules, working long hours, and without leaving the premises so as not to be detected.
Large amounts of money were reportedly laundered by the organisation’s leaders, allowing them to maintain a life of luxury. They resided in estates with all kinds of luxuries in the Sevillian province and in urbanisations in the Costa del Sol city of Marbella.
In the last stage of the operation, the investigators detected how this organisation was diversifying its criminal activity, expanding its facilities into large marijuana plantations.
The three clandestine tobacco factories were located in the towns of Alfaro in La Rioja, Los Corrales in Sevilla, and Enquera in Valencia. These factories had machinery with advanced technology. The value of these factories would be around €3 million.
Machinery was also seized in the Sevilla municipality of Estepa. The organisation planned to set up a fourth factory in the other Sevillian town of Osuna, to further increase production and therefore profits. With the three factories that the organisation had, it could produce 540,000 packs a day.
As a result of the police operation, 7 properties and 25 vehicles were confiscated, as well as the blocking of bank accounts owned by those investigated.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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