By Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese police have clamped down on a crime ring that allegedly involved the country's U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) using military planes to smuggle gold, diamonds and drugs, authorities said 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 soldiers may have been used as couriers to transport the illicit goods from CAR into Portugal, and they became aware of such suspicions in December 2019.
Defence Minister Joao Cravinho said he informed the United Nations last year.
According to Portuguese police, the "criminal network" had international links and allegedly smuggled the illicit materials to then launder the money.
Ten people, including some ex-military, have been arrested so far and are likely to appear before a judge on Tuesday.
Hundreds of Portuguese military have been deployed to CAR, the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million, over the last few years in peacekeeping missions.
CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013.
The Portuguese armed forces said they "immediately" reported the situation to police and quickly ordered more control checks on officers arriving from missions abroad.
"The armed forces totally repudiate these behaviours which contradict the values of the military institution," it said, adding that those involved would be held accountable if found guilty.
The United Nations was following up on the matter after seeing the media reports, U.N. spokesman Stephane 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)