MADRID: n waters close to the Bay of Cadiz in the early morning of last Wednesday, the Spanish Tax Agency seized over three million packs of contraband tobacco found in six containers being transported by a tug boat and cargo ship heading for the Huelva coast.
The seizure, carried out as part of Operation ‘Escudo’, is the largest ever conducted by the Spanish Tax Agency and in itself represents between one-fourth and one-third of all the manufactured tobacco products seized by the agency in one year throughout Spain.
In this operation, the Spanish Tax Agency was supported by the British authorities and the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation on the Borders of EU Member States (FRONTEX).
Operation ‘Escudo’ was launched on 24 June when, in international waters 50 miles to the north of Tunisia, three vessels were spotted transferring tobacco.
At the time, investigating officers discovered that the tobacco was being transferred to a cargo ship (the ‘Falkvac’), which, given its characteristics, could not complete a sea voyage independently and, in fact, was being towed by a tug boat (the ‘Eisvogel’).
This transshipment technique – entirely inappropriate for standard and lawful tobacco transshipment activity – immediately arose suspicion among investigators at the Customs Department of the Spanish Tax Agency, which ordered the seizure and analysis of the cargo and transport documentations. Following this analysis, it was found that this international criminal organisation engaged in cigarette smuggling has a significant number of vessels of varying size engaged in this unlawful trafficking activity.