Spanish police announced on Sunday they had dismantled an illicit network that was exploiting Ukrainian refugees.
Ukrainians fleeing the grinding Russian invasion were “crammed” into makeshift accommodation and put to work in shady tobacco factories by the criminal group.
The network is accused of smuggling “large quantities” of tobacco and making it into counterfeit cigarettes that were sold across Spain and neighbouring countries, explained the Spanish Civil Guard in a press release.
Twenty-seven people were arrested as part of the investigation, which was carried out with the help of Europol, the European police agency.
Ten tons of tobacco and 3.5 million packets of cigarettes were seized, valued at nearly 37.5 million euros.
Located in the wine region of La Rioja, Seville and Valencia, the three factories were equipped with “advanced technology” and could produce 540,000 packs of cigarettes per day, according to the police.
The network employed Ukrainians who came to Spain irregularly or arrived as asylum seekers after the conflict broke out in February.
These Ukrainians lived in the factories, “crammed into prefabs and unable to leave the facilities so they could not be spotted, working long hours,” the statement continued.
Leaders of the network laundered “large amounts of money” and led “a life of luxury” in the upscale tourist resort of Marbella on the Costa del Sol, it added.