The Spanish Civil Guard has dismantled an illegal cigarette factory located in an underground bunker near Malaga, in the first such discovery to be made in Europe, according to Europol.
Inside the bunker, which was located four metres beneath a horses’ stable, police discovered Ukrainian and Lithuanian workers producing 3,500 cigarettes per hour in slave-like conditions.
The operation resulted in 20 arrests during raids on 13 houses and several industrial warehouses, as well as the confiscation of 153,000 packets of tobacco that were ready for sale. Nearly 18,000 kilograms of loose tobacco, 20 kilograms of hashish and 144 kilograms of marijuana were also discovered. It is estimated that the operation would have generated around 72 million euros per year.
This criminal organisation, which was formed mainly of British citizens, but also had Lithuanian and Ukrainian members, had gone to great lengths to prevent detection by the authorities.
The underground installations operated thanks to a large electric generator, and was soundproofed to prevent the noise of the machines from being heard outside.
Without windows or ventilation, except for a generator that recycled the air, workers lived for weeks underground, taking 12-hour shifts and sleeping in small bunks.
The workers were on the brink of suffocation when they were discovered because the generator had been allowed to shut down when the gang’s leaders were arrested outside. The detainees refused to tell police the whereabouts of the bunker and the workers were only rescued when panicked screams and banging were heard coming from beneath the ground.
In addition to the six workers they found a kitchen with seven chairs, two refrigerators and a satellite television, a bedroom with four bunk beds, and a bathroom with a shower. The workers went without contact with the outside world for weeks at a time in what police described as a ‘slave-like regime’.
The counterfeit cigarettes were destined primarily for the UK where each package was sold on the black market for around two euros, ten euros less than the normal retail price.
Twelve British citizens suspected of running the operation were arrested and remain in custody. One of the two leaders, Daniel Dobbs, who was given a 13-and-a-half years sentence for heroin dealing in 2014, had been on the run in Spain since escaping from prison in November 2018. Last year, the UK’s National Crime Agency identified him and warned the Civil Guard that he was living in Spain under a false identity.
Dobbs and his compatriots are expected to be extradited back to the UK once judicial proceedings in Spain are complete.