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Spanish police arrest six in La Linea over Eastern Beach smuggling incident

Screen grab from Policia Nacional video of the arrests.

Spanish police in La Linea have arrested six people in connection with a violent incident on Eastern Beach last month in which Spanish customs officers were attacked by a group of suspected smugglers.

The incident caused diplomatic tension at the time after the Spanish officers appeared to fire warning shots as they were pelted with rocks. Both officers sustained injuries as a result of the attack.

The incident remains under investigation in Gibraltar but in a new development, Spain’s Policia Nacional said on Wednesday it had arrested six people who it described as “those principally responsible” for the violence on Eastern Beach.

The six were arrested on suspicion of wounding, serious assault on an officer and tobacco smuggling.

In a statement, Spain’s Ministry of the Interior said the incident unfolded as the Spanish customs officers chased a small vessel carrying tobacco.

The officers, who were in a small tender boat deployed by a larger patrol vessel, ended up on the shore in Eastern Beach after their engine failed in rough weather.

“They were greeted with rocks by those now under investigation, sustaining serious facial injuries which required surgical treatment,” the statement said.

Following a report from the Spanish Customs agency, the Agencia Tributaria, the two injured officers gave witness statements which, together with analysis of images that emerged of the incident and investigations by police, led to the arrest of the six individuals.

The statement said the investigation, called ‘Operación Revenge’, remained open and further arrests were expected.

At the time of the incident, both the UK and Gibraltar governments condemned the unsavoury criminality that led to the two Spanish officers being injured.

But they condemned too the presence of Spanish officers on a beach in Gibraltar, which they said would not be tolerated.

About a week after the incident, the UK Government lodged a formal diplomatic protest to Spain over the incident and was described by Gibraltar and London as “a gross violation” of British sovereignty.

Although the arrests in Spain relate to a violent incident in Gibraltar, the six will face prosecution in Spain.

Under Spanish law, an attack on Spanish law enforcement officers can be prosecuted in Spain irrespective of where it has occurred.

“Spanish law enforcement is therefore able proceed with these charges in Spain, despite them relating to events which occurred firmly outside of Spain, without any sovereignty or jurisdiction issues arising,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“As usual, Gibraltar's law enforcement agencies will be happy to support any request for evidence to be provided in these prosecutions, as we regularly volunteer to do in all cases.”

Speaking on GBC’s Gibraltar Today on Wednesday, police Commissioner Richard Ullger said the Royal Gibraltar Police had been working closely with Spanish law enforcement agencies and that an investigation also remained under way in Gibraltar.

The Government of Gibraltar welcomed the arrest of the six individuals in La Linea over the alleged involvement in the beach incident.

“I know the RGP has been in contact with fellow Policia Nacional officers in respect of this matter and am pleased that prosecutions will follow,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

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