Law enforcement authorities in Madrid and Sofia have unveiled details of a bust some days ago in which 22 people, 20 Bulgarian and two Spanish citizens, were arrested in connection with three illegal factories illicitly producing millions of euro worth of cigarettes.
The cigarettes were made for sale in European Union countries, mainly Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.
The head of Bulgaria’s chief directorate for combating organised crime, Ivailo Spiridonov, said that two of the factories used Bulgarian equipment and the workers were former employees of cigarette production factories in Plovdiv, Haskovo, Pazardzhik and Pleven.
The factories were near Malaga, Salamanca and Toleda. Their locations were chosen because they were near motorways that enabled rapid distribution of their goods.
Spiridonov said that the first information about the illegal factories was received in August 2015. Bulgarian police had begun to track the movement of workers from Bulgaria to the factories.
Investigations in Spain were continuing.
The organised crime group was led by Bulgarians, some of them known to the police, reports in Bulgarian media said. Those arrested were known to police not only in Bulgaria, but also in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, where some previously had been arrested.
At the factory in Toleda, filters had been installed so that the tobacco could not be smelt in the surroundings. Workers lived in the complex and were not allowed to leave, to maintain the security of the illegal operation. The factories were soundproofed.
Spanish police thanked their Bulgarian colleagues for the good co-operation. They appealed to consumers to be careful about what they bought, saying that the tobacco products from these factories were “very dangerous”, adding that there was no such thing as useful tobacco but that produced without control was even more dangerous. This was a danger in addition to the damage caused to the economy by the contraband cigarette trade.
Workers at the factories were not allowed to smoke the cigarettes they produced because those in charge of the illegal operation knew how dangerous the cigarettes were.
A Spanish top customs official said that the factories were very modern, one capable of producing 500 packets of cigarettes a minute. This made it possible to imagine how much revenue in value-added tax was being lost because of the contraband cigarettes.
A Bulgarian national was the alleged mastermind of the operation. Those arrested are to face charges of crimes against industrial property, breaching tax laws, money laundering and involvement in an organised crime group.
(Photo: Vjeran Lisjak/sxc.hu)