Police bust illegal cigarette factory

Six people charged outside Madrid with smuggling and illegal production of tobacco products

Six arrests and 16,500 kilos of shredded tobacco are the chief results of Operation Cage, mounted by the AEAT tax agency's Customs Surveillance Service, which has led to the dismantling of an illegal cigarette factory in the municipality of Coslada, on the eastern outskirts of Madrid. The police have also confiscated three machines and other equipment capable of turning out 1.5 million packs of cigarettes per month, the director of AEAT's Special Customs and Duties Department, Pilar Jurado, said on Tuesday.

Investigations began in an abandoned building in the industrial park of El Balconcillo, near Guadalajara. Everything suggested that it had previously housed an illegal tobacco factory aimed at the Spanish market. Customs agents observed the comings and goings of people using the building, who eventually led them to the industrial park in Coslada. There it appeared that the alleged criminals had resumed the manufacturing of cigarettes.

AEAT's calculations estimate the Coslada plant's capacity at 1.5 million packs per month. The 16,500 kilos was to be rolled into high-end American Blend products, which mix Virginia, Burley and Oriental tobacco. In the Guadalajara building the Customs agents found a small quantity of packs, ready for distribution, that may have been produced by the organization.

The value of the shredded tobacco, according to AEAT, is about two million euros, enough for more than a million packs of cigarettes. The loss to the public coffers would amount to some three million euros, according to the Finance Ministry.

Pan-European problem

The six people detained - a Spaniard, a Ukrainian and four Poles - were charged with smuggling and of illegal possession and production of prepared tobacco products.

According to AEAT, this is the first time an illegal installation with the raw material and machinery required for producing cigarettes has been detected and confiscated. Illegal production of this type has affected other European Union countries. Since 2004, 54 illegal cigarette factories have been dismantled across the bloc, notably in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. Illegal cigarette factories are normally located near big population centers, customs authorities say. They produce intensively during a short period of time, then move on to avoid detection.

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