Tancos military base: what is known about the robbery

  • ECO News
  • 3 July 2017

The Portuguese Army speaks of an information leak, the Defense minister says he takes political responsibility and the whereabouts of the weapons remain unknown.

A video surveillance system which hasn’t worked in two years, a possible information leak, and a set of military supplies which disappeared from the weapons’ storage of the military base in Tancos (128 km north from Lisbon). A “very serious event”, which increased the fear of a possible terrorist attack, has led the Defense minister to take political responsibility for the case.

The Portuguese Army announced that some military supplies had disappeared: hand grenades and 9 mm ammunition. However, this weekend, the Spanish newspaper El Espanhol disclosed a detailed list of the material stolen from Tancos. It was handed in to Spain’s anti-terrorist forces, and it is much larger than what had been announced: 1450 9mm cartridge; 212 different types of grenades; 22 coils of wire to be activated by traction; 25 triggers; 264 plastic explosives; 30.5 KLS blades; 60 primary IKS explosives; 102 CCD explosives.

The thiefs (whose identity is still unknown) cut through the chain link fencing to enter the military area, taking advantage of the lack of surveillance systems which have not been working for two years. After the robbery, classified as an “incident of extreme seriousness”, security will be reinforce in Tancos: 316 thousand euros will be invested in a new fence and the Portuguese State will buy 43 million euros worth of arsenal.

The Defense minister Azeredo Lopes acknowledged the stolen material could be sold to criminal associations or terrorist organizations; Portuguese allies in the European Union and NATO have been warned. The theft did not change, however, the security alert level in the country.

Political management of the Defense ministry concerning Tancos creates uneasiness in the Army

Portuguese Defense minister Azeredo Lopes.

The political management of the Tancos case is causing uneasiness among the highest Army rankings. The main reasons is the dismissal of five commanders directly connected to the weapons’ storage, which was interpreted as an imposition to avoid political consequences for the minister of Defense himself. Azeredo Lopes has assured he takes “political responsibility”, because he is “the person in office”. He does not specify, however, if he will resign.

Rovisco Duarte, the Army Chief of Staff, stated: “I do not want any obstacles to the inquiries and so I decided to exonerate five commanders of units which are somehow connected to the proceedings”. The decision follows the acknowledgement of internal leaks of information concerning the storage: “those who stole the weapons knew of the contents of the warehouses”.

The President of the Portuguese Republic advocated for “an investigation which ascertains everything — all the facts and responsibilities”. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa believes precautionary measures need to be taken as the investigation continues.