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Portuguese court sentences 11 people in national armory burglary

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Portuguese court acquitted a former defense minister but convicted 11 others for theft of weapons from the national arsenal more than four years ago

LISBON, Portugal – A Portuguese court on Friday acquitted a former defense minister but convicted 11 others for stealing weapons from the national arsenal more than four years ago, defendants’ lawyers and local media say .

Former Minister of Defense José Azeredo Lopes has been accused of embezzlement and conduct leading to a denial of justice, in connection with the mysterious reappearance of the weapon in a nearby field four months after its theft.

The case was investigated by prosecutors and police detectives. Prosecutors alleged that the then defense minister was aware of a separate and secret military police plan to recover stolen weapons after the robbery that embarrassed the Portuguese armed forces.

The court found that military police working on the case had made a confidential deal with the mastermind of the robbery to have the weapons returned in exchange for keeping his identity confidential.

The court sentenced the mastermind behind the burglary to eight years in prison, the longest sentence ever, for arms trafficking and terrorism.

The court concluded that he intended to sell the weapons on the international black market, at one point contacting the now defunct Spanish Basque separatist militant group ETA.

Prosecutors valued the weapons at 35,000 euros ($ 40,000).

The other convicted defendants were sentenced to terms of at least three years in prison. Some of the sentences have been suspended.

Eleven other defendants were acquitted after 14 months of trial.

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