Portuguese authorities raided nearly 100 properties on Nov. 8 as part of an investigation targeting peacekeepers suspected to be involved in a smuggling scheme in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Officers said a “criminal network” involving a “handful” of Portuguese troops deployed as United Nations (UN) peacekeepers in CAR are suspected of diamonds and drug trafficking.
“What we are looking into now is the possibility that some soldiers taking part in the National Detached Force in CAR were used as couriers in the trafficking of diamonds, gold, and drugs,” the office of the Portuguese Armed Forces Chief of Staff said in a statement, as quoted by AFP News.
More than 300 inspectors were part of the raids across Portugal, resulting in about a dozen arrests.
Some of those arrested are former military members, according to officers.
The suspects are likely to appear in court this week.
Military officials issued a statement denouncing “these behaviors, which contradict the values of the military institution,” as quoted by Sky News.
According to Portuguese Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho, the suspected soldiers undertook the smuggling operation “on their own initiative” and were “not something systemic.”
The Portuguese military said that officials were informed of the alleged crime ring in December 2019.
Portugal has deployed hundreds of soldiers as UN peacekeepers in CAR as the African country struggles with violence and conflict that worsened after rebels seized power in 2013.
CAR is rich with gold, diamonds, and other minerals, but it is one of the poorest countries in the world.
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