Spanish gang bust: exploitation of Ukrainians in illicit tobacco trade

Police in Spain have dismantled a gang they claim operated three illegal tobacco factories where underpaid Ukrainian refugees labored.

27 persons have been detained after the operations were discovered in three different regions of Spain.

The group is suspected of smuggling substantial amounts of tobacco converted into fake cigarettes.

The plants had the capacity to produce more than 500,000 cigarette packs each day, which were sold both domestically and abroad.

The Ukrainians, who had fled Russia’s invasion of their nation, were allegedly living “crammed” in prefabricated shelters inside the facilities, according to the police.

As some of them had entered the nation illegally, they were putting in long hours and staying put.

The organization’s leaders allegedly lived a “life of luxury” while laundering cash for their tobacco smuggling business.

During their raid, the authorities seized luxury cars, jewelry, tobacco products worth €37.5 million ($41 million; £33 million), substantial sums of cash, and luxury goods. A total of 20 houses, businesses, and stores were searched.

At the end of 2021, the first covert plant was discovered in a poultry shed close to Seville in the south, prompting the authorities to discover two further factories in the eastern Valencia region and La Rioja in the north.

According to the police, the gang was also expanding its output by establishing enormous marijuana plantations.

The European police organization, Europol, provided support for the inquiry.

The United Nations estimates that approximately eight million Ukrainian refugees from Russia’s invasion in February 2022 are now living in Europe. In Spain, more than 160,000 have been recorded.

Legislators in the European Parliament noted in November that Ukrainian workers were increasingly being exploited, claiming that the urgency of their predicament and language limitations occasionally compelled migrants to accept unpaid, informal employment.

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