LISBON, November 8 (Reuters) – Portuguese police cracked down on a criminal network that allegedly involved UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) using military planes to smuggle gold, diamonds and drugs , the authorities announced on Monday.
Police said that throughout the day, more than 300 inspectors raided nearly 100 homes across the country to collect evidence related to the investigation, codenamed Operation Myriad.
The armed forces said in a statement that soldiers may have been used as couriers to transport illicit goods from CAR to Portugal, and they became aware of the suspicions in December 2019.
Defense Minister Joao Cravinho said he briefed the United Nations last year.
According to Portuguese police, the “criminal network” had international links and allegedly smuggled illicit materials and then laundered the money.
Ten people, including some ex-servicemen, have been arrested so far and are expected to appear before a judge on Tuesday.
Hundreds of Portuguese soldiers have been deployed to CAR, the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million people, in recent years on peacekeeping missions.
CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013.
The Portuguese armed forces said they reported the situation “immediately” to the police and quickly ordered more screening checks on officers arriving from missions abroad.
“The armed forces totally reject these behaviors which contradict the values ââof the military institution,” he said, adding that those involved would be held responsible if found guilty.
The United Nations was following the case after seeing media reports, UN spokesperson StÃ©phane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Monday.
Reporting by Catarina Demony, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan
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