A GANG of drugs smugglers left stumped by the coronavirus transport ban decided to start a tomato canning business so they could continue their illicit trade.

With it too risky to continue using the roads during the lockdown, they hit on the idea of using the food distribution exception clause in legislation to try to carry on smuggling without attracting unwanted police attention.

The Lithuanian criminals fitted out a Mijas villa on Spain’s Costa del Sol with expensive industrial machinery and entered the tinned tomatoes business.

They started shipping Spanish ‘fried’ tomatoes (tomate frito) to their homeland. But hidden inside many of the tins was hashish, destined for distribution in Lithuania and neighbouring countries.

Acting on a tip off, Guardia Civil set in place Operaction VAISTAS to track the gang. Surveillance led them to a warehouse in Malaga. They pounced on three men loading up a Lithuanian lorry with tinned tomatoes. The tins were found to hide 200 kilos of hashish.

Drugs smugglers on Spain’s Costa del Sol set up tomato canning plant to get round coronavirus lockdown rules