Multi-agency cross-border crackdown on tobacco smugglers
Over 30 people were stopped close to the border fence during cross-border multi-agency operations targeting tobacco smugglers early Wednesday morning.
The operations drew on officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police, HM Customs and the Gibraltar Defence Police on the Gibraltar side, with the Guardia Civil, the Policia Nacional, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera and La Linea’s Policia Local involved on the Spanish side.
Two boats used by smugglers were seized on Eastern beach, while Spanish agencies seized 3,000 packets of cigarettes in Spain.
Although tobacco smuggling on the eastside beaches is relatively common, the number of people involved on this occasion, coupled to the involvement of so many different agencies, makes yesterday’s incidents somewhat unusual.
Reports in Spain suggested as many as 250 people may have been involved in smuggling during the course of the night.
The operations come against the backdrop of a crackdown on drug smugglers in the Campo de Gibraltar following a number of incidents involving violence towards officers in Spain.
Although the heightened police presence is focused primarily on drug trafficking gangs, there is increased attention on tobacco smuggling too.
A spokesman for HM Customs in Gibraltar said land and sea units were despatched to the northern end of Eastern beach following reports of tobacco activity at around 2.30am on Wednesday morning.
When the officers they spotted two boats – one of them a six metre rigid hulled inflatable boat, the other a traditional ‘patera’ – waiting close to the shore.
“They were clearly involved in tobacco smuggling,” the spokesman said.
On being approached, the occupants beached the vessel and ran off on foot toward the border fence, where a large group of men carrying sticks and stones were present.
Faced with those numbers, Customs officers called on the RGP and the GDP, whose officers also attended the scene. The latter were carrying riot gear, the Chronicle understands.
Spanish agencies were also alerted and land units were despatched to the Spanish side of the border, while an SVA helicopter monitored the events from above.
The men in Gibraltar were stopped and their details checked. The RGP stopped 23 individuals, while Customs stopped a further 11.
However no one was arrested on this side of the border and no tobacco was seized here.
La Linea’s town council, which is responsible for the Policia Local, said 3,000 packets of cigarettes were seized later the same morning after smugglers ditched the boxes into the sea during following a chase on the Spanish side.
There were reports that Spanish officers fired shots – most likely blanks or rubber bullets – and that some officers were attacked. Smugglers were also said to have shone lasers at the SVA helicopter.
In a separate operation, Spanish law enforcement agencies seized a small boat of the type used to smuggle tobacco on La Linea’s western seaboard.
Last night the GSD, which earlier this week raised concerns about the state of the border fence, said the incident illustrated the urgent need for effective repairs.
“Although there was no escalation due to the show of force from law enforcement agencies, the incident illustrates the need to deal with these holes and secure the frontier fence post haste,” the GSD said.
“There are sufficient holes to apparently allow a large number of people to enter Gibraltar in the incident yesterday and Government should just get on with the job of fixing them.”
But the Gibraltar Government said the GSD’s concerns about the fence were misplaced and that, although smugglers regularly cut holes in the fencing, these were immediately repaired as a matter of routine.
“Organised criminal gangs based in Spain continually seek to breach the fence,” No.6 Convent Place said. “The Government continually invests in its repair.”
Not only that, the government had plans to reinforce the entire border fence and was in talks with Spanish authorities to that end.