Portuguese troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been accused of trafficking diamonds, gold and drugs.
Dozens of raids took place on Monday across Portugal, the army's chief of staff revealed.
“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 army said in a statement.
The troops are suspected of using military planes to transport the items.
An investigation was launched following a tipoff from the special force's command, which was informed in December 2019 of the possible involvement of Portuguese soldiers in diamond trafficking.
It is understood that a dozen people, including active duty troops and former soldiers, are being investigated, with searches planned at more than 100 sites in Lisbon, Porto, Braganca and Vila Real.
Police said that more than 300 officers took part in the operation that focused on dismantling “a criminal network with international links".
Currently, 180 Portuguese soldiers are deployed in the former French colony as peacekeepers with the UN mission known by its French acronym Minusca.
Hundreds of elite Portuguese troops, including paratroopers and commandos, have been stationed with the UN force in CAR in recent years.
The army has stepped up checks and inspections of military flights from CAR.
The African nation is rich in gold, diamonds and other minerals but paralysed by poverty, conflict and sectarian violence.
Minusca employs more than 15,000 people, including many from Rwanda, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt.
CAR has been wracked by violence since the Seleka rebel coalition seized power in March 2013.
The CAR army, backed by UN peacekeepers as well as Russian and Rwandan forces, have been battling the rebels in recent months.