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Spanish police raid illegal tobacco plant accused of exploiting Ukrainian laborers

Police arrested 27 people and seized cigarettes and tobacco leaves worth $41 million.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

A raid on an illegal tobacco factory in northern Spain found 10 Ukrainian laborers who were being forced to work long hours at very low salaries and without valid employment contracts, a Spanish Civil Guard officer said Monday.

Civil Guard Capt. Carlos Carrasco said half of the Ukrainian men were living in Spain under refugee status. Only one carried a Spanish identification card for foreigners, and he is believed to be responsible for luring the rest to the factory. “These organizations know that (these men) are in a situation of vulnerability and offer them very low salaries and long hours,″ Carrasco said.

Carrasco, who oversaw the raid on the factory in la Rioja, said the horrible living conditions there initially led authorities to suspect the Ukrainians were victims of human trafficking.

“The restrooms were filthy, mattresses piled on the floor, very little hygiene,” Carrasco said about the prefabricated units in which the laborers lived.

Human trafficking was later ruled out because the Ukrainians were allowed to keep their documentation and mobile phones while the doors weren’t locked, even though they didn’t venture outside so as not to be detected.

The factory was one of three that security forces targeted in a nationwide operation against a criminal tobacco smuggling organization. They arrested a total of 27 people and seized cigarettes and tobacco leaves worth 37.5 million euros ($41 million).

The ring leaders owned luxury vehicles, jewelry and large quantities of cash that were seized during the raid. Over 20 residences, industrial buildings and shops were searched.

Spain is home to over 150,000 Ukrainian refugees who have been granted temporary status protection after fleeing their war-torn country.