Portuguese UN peacekeepers accused of helping to smuggle diamonds, gold and drugs out of Central African Republic

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A "handful" of Portuguese peacekeepers may have been involved in smuggling gold, diamonds and drugs out of the Central African Republic (CAR).

The soldiers, part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country, are alleged to have been part of a crime ring that used military planes to transport the illicit goods to Portugal, the office of the Portuguese Armed Forces Chief of Staff said in a statement.

More than 300 inspectors raided nearly 100 properties in Portugal as part of the investigation, police said on Monday.

Officers said the "criminal network" had international links and 10 people have been arrested so far - some of them ex-military.

They are likely to appear in court this week.

The Portuguese military said officials became aware of the alleged crime ring in December 2019, along with suspicions that some of its soldiers may have been used as couriers.

More stringent checks have been put in place for soldiers returning to Portugal after peacekeeping missions.

In a statement, military officials said: "The armed forces totally repudiate these behaviours which contradict the values ​​of the military institution."

Portugal's defence minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said: "Everything suggests that these were activities undertaken on their own initiative by a handful of soldiers and not something systemic."

Hundreds of Portuguese soldiers have been deployed in the CAR over the past few years, as the country struggles with violence that worsened after a coalition of rebels seized power in 2013.

It is rich in gold and diamonds but it is also one of the poorest countries in the world.

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