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Picardo counters tobacco claims made by Guardia Civil commander in Campo

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday claims made by a senior Guardia Civil commander in the Campo de Gibraltar who suggested Gibraltar was not doing enough to counter the illicit trade in tobacco.

Mr Picardo said that while Gibraltar had significantly toughened its laws to control the illicit tobacco market, “Spanish penalties and rules have, unhelpfully been relaxed”.

“Gibraltar would like to see Spain make its anti-smuggling penalties and rules tougher and not more relaxed in order to assist Gibraltar in curbing Spanish national attempts to smuggle tobacco,” Mr Picardo added.

The Chief Minister was responding to an interview that was published by Europa Sur on Sunday, where the Guardia Civil colonel in Algeciras, Jesus Nuñez, said Gibraltar needed to do more to tackle tobacco smuggling.

Mr Nuñez, who will soon step down as commander of the Guardia Civil in the Campo area, said his officer enjoyed “magnificent” relations with the Royal Gibraltar Police and highlighted joint operations targeting traffickers.

But in unflattering terms, he added too that Gibraltar should toughen its stance on tobacco smuggling.

On Gibraltar’s role in tobacco smuggling, Mr Nuñez told the Spanish newspaper: “As long as there is a big difference in tobacco prices sold in Gibraltar and Spain, smuggling will continue to exist.”

“The sale of tobacco in Gibraltar is not classified as smuggling for the Rock although it is for Spain.”

“Officially, [Gibraltar] sells tobacco but it is not willing to address how it leaves its territory.”

“The reality is that those vessels berthed in La Linea’s beaches are the ones that leave Gibraltar’s shores.”

Mr Nuñez said he not read in the media of any police operations in Gibraltar to crack down on tobacco smuggling, and added: “It would be beneficial for us to have much more collaboration with Gibraltar on the issue on the smuggling of tobacco.”

But these comments on a lack of cooperation on tobacco smuggling from Gibraltar were branded as “factually incorrect and totally unfair” by the Gibraltar Government.

The Government said Gibraltar had already “voluntarily and without obligation [begun] applying the Memorandum of Understanding on Tobacco agreed under the Gibraltar protocol to the EU Withdrawal Agreement” with the aim of cracking down on tobacco smuggling, hiking prices as agreed.

In addition, the Government also pointed out the extent of operations carried out on the Rock.

And while it welcomed Mr Nuñez’s positive comments on cooperation between law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border, the Government said the memorandum on tobacco “reduces the price difference between the product on both sides of the frontier”.

Mr Picardo said: “I am very pleased to see Jesus Nuñez reflect the reality of the excellent law enforcement cooperation that exists between Gibraltar and Spain.”

“I am, however, very disappointed that Mr Nuñez has failed to understand the reality of the work being done in Gibraltar, primarily but not exclusively by our brilliant officers from Customs, to stop Spanish tobacco smugglers.”

Mr Picardo said Mr Nuñez has “failed to appreciate” work done by Customs officers and the magnificent tools the Government has put at their disposal, allowing more assets than ever to be able to combat Spanish tobacco smugglers.

In addition, Mr Picardo said that neither Mr Nuñez nor the reporter “appeared to be aware” of the Memorandum of Understanding aimed at tackling tobacco smuggling that his Government has voluntarily signed.

The Chief Minister added: “Only last week an anti-tobacco operation being carried out by Customs officers in Gibraltar led to an officer being injured in the discharge of his duties, something of great concern to the Government and the reason why we will continue to invest in the equipment put at the disposal of Customs officers to enable them to carry out their excellent work as safely as possible.”