Spanish police have broken up a network they say operated three illegal tobacco factories where Ukrainian refugees worked extremely long hours in poor conditions. To avoid getting caught, the refugees were not allowed to leave the factory premises.
Police in Spain have broken up a criminal network that exploited Ukraine refugees in illegal cigarette factories and smuggled large quantities of tobacco, the Spanish Civil Guard announced on Sunday (January 22).
In the course of the investigation, in which Europol was also involved, 27 people were arrested across three regions of Spain.
Police seized 10 tons of tobacco leaves and 3.5 million packs of cigarettes worth €37.5 million, as well as luxury vehicles, jewelery and large quantities of cash during their raid. More than 20 homes, industrial buildings and shops were also searched.
Migrants lived 'crammed together' in factories
Asylum seekers who had fled Ukraine due to war had worked in the three tobacco factories illegally operated by the network while living "crammed together" in shelters within the factories, according to a police statement.
To avoid detection, the migrants were not allowed to leave the factory premises – as some had entered the country illegally – and worked extremely long hours, the statement added.
The factories – located in the La Rioja region in the north and in Seville and Valencia – were equipped with advanced machinery and could produce 540,000 packs of cigarettes per day.
The cigarettes were sold throughout Spain and abroad, according to the statement.
Police said the network was also diversifying production by developing large marijuana plantations.
The network's leaders reportedly engaged in large-scale money laundering schemes and enjoyed "a luxurious life" in the seaside resort of Marbella on the Costa del Sol.
Since Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, more than 160,000 Ukrainian refugees have registered in Spain, according to the United Nations.