Crime in Portugal

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Portuguese police on a street in Lisbon.

Crime rates in Portugal are generally low, and most crimes are non-violent.[1] Portugal's security and peace indicators compare favorably to those of other countries; according to Vision of Humanity's 2021 Global Peace Index rankings, Portugal is the 4th most peaceful country in the world.[2] Crime in Portugal is fought by a host of government agencies including the Ministry of Internal Administration, Ministry of Justice, Maritime Authority System, Economic and Food Safety Authority, and the Informations System of the Portuguese Republic, among others.[3] Portugal has been a member of the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO), commonly known as INTERPOL since 1930.[4]

Crime by type[edit]


In 2020 there were a total of 93 murders registered in Portugal; 87 occurred on continental Portugal, and 3 on the autonomous island region of Madeira.[5]


In 2020 there were a total of 48,903 crimes of assault registered in Portugal; 45,409 occurred on continental Portugal, 1,932 on the autonomous island region of The Azores, and 1,541 on the autonomous island region of Madeira.[6]

Human trafficking[edit]

Between 2008 and 2016, authorities confirmed a total of 569 victims of human trafficking in Portugal. Of the victims, 68% were from Europe; 36% were Romanian, 28% were Portuguese, and 4% were Bulgarian. For 63% of the victims, Portugal was a Country of Destination, for 28% it was a Country of Origin, and for 9% it was a Country of Transit. Of the total, 417 victims were trafficked for the purpose of labour exploitation.[7]

Domestic violence[edit]

In 2020 a total of 23,439 crimes of Domestic Violence were registered in Portugal; 21,977 occurred on continental Portugal, 798 on the autonomous island region of The Azores, and 661 on the autonomous island region of Madeira.[5]

Hate crime[edit]

Racially motivated hate crimes have increased dramatically in recent years; In 2020 there were a total of 655 complaints of racist abuse (an increase of 50% over 2019) filed with The Portuguese Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination (official abbreviation "CICDR"; Portuguese; Comissão para a Igualdade e Contra a Discriminação Racial).[8] Afro-Portuguese people and Romani people have had a disproportionate representation in annual arrests, incarceration numbers and police reports across the country and throughout time.[9]


In 2020 there were 6,904 incidents of theft in public places (excluding theft from motor vehicles and carjackings); 6,691 occurred on continental Portugal, 66 on the autonomous island region of The Azores, and 145 on the autonomous island region of Madeira. There were a total of 29,642 incidents of theft from motor vehicles and carjackings themselves, 28,905 of which occurred on continental Portugal, 421 on the autonomous island region of the Azores, and 305 on the autonomous island region of Madeira.[10]

Pickpockets and purse snatchers are present in crowded popular tourist sites, restaurants, transportation hubs and on public transportation in the largest cities, especially within the Lisbon and Porto metropolitan areas. While thieves may operate anywhere, the largest number of reports of theft received by the authorities are usually from heavily populated areas and major tourist destinations.[11]

Organised crime[edit]

Portugal became a destination for several thousand emigrants from diverse locations around the globe (particularly Eastern Europe, Brazil and the former Portuguese territories in Africa - the PALOP countries). With the development and modernisation of the economy within the globalization process, corporate crime, financial crime, and corruption are increasingly important issues.[12]

According to the World Economic Forum's 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Portugal ranked 9th best out of 141 countries for level of costs imposed on businesses by organised crime.[13]

The Galician clans, particularly the Los Charlines clan, have been major players in illicit drug trafficking, primarily involved in smuggling cocaine and hashish from Colombia and Morocco into Portugal via sea routes since the 1970s.[14][15]

Various groups of the Italian Mafia have been known to be active throughout Portugal since at least the 1980s. The Camorra is known to be active in Porto where it is involved in the business of fake designer fashion merchandise. Calabrian organized crime group 'Ndrangheta has been involved in drug trafficking, as well as money laundering specifically through the tourism sector.[16]

Organized crime groups from former Soviet states have been increasingly active in the Iberian Peninsula since the 1990s, especially after the fall of the USSR.[17] In 2016, members of a Russian criminal gang led by Alexander Tolstikov, with ties to the Russian mafia, were caught running a money laundering operation using the Portuguese football club U.D. Leiria.[18][19] By 2019, members of the Georgian mafia had committed over 370 burglaries throughout Portugal.[20] In 2021, two members of the Montenegrin Kavač clan, which is responsible for money laundering, extortion, and smuggling cocaine from South America into Europe, were arrested in Portugal after living and operating discreetly in the country for nearly one year.[21]

Since the 2000s, Mexican drug cartels including Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and the Gulf Cartel, have been establishing their presence in Portugal. Of these three, the Sinaloa cartel has evolved to become the one with the most dominant presence in the country, where it is involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. The group's primary modus operandi is smuggling cocaine of Colombian origin into Portugal, with the aid of corrupt officials and businessmen; The smuggling operation is overseen by Joaquín Guzmán's two sons Iván Archivaldo, and Jesús Alfredo. Once in Portugal, only a small amount of the smuggled cocaine remains in the country; The majority is transferred to partners with whom the Sinaloa Cartel has alliances, including Portuguese, Brazilian and Russian drug traffickers, who then distribute the drugs throughout the rest of Europe to command higher prices.[15]

In the 2010s the presence of Brazilian organised crime group First Capital Command (abbreviation "PCC"; Portuguese; Primeiro Comando da Capital) in Portugal was confirmed for the first time by Portuguese authorities.[22][23] A federal report by the Brazilian government revealed that there were at least 43 members of the group involved in drug trafficking known to be operating in Portugal, the highest number of any country in Europe.[24] First Capital Command has had a working relationship with 'Ndrangheta since the 1980s to export drugs from Brazil to Europe, where 'Ndrangheta then takes over trafficking and distribution operations throughout the continent.[25]


Transparency International ranks Portugal 33rd out of 179 countries surveyed in its 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.[26] The agency's 2016 Global Corruption Barometer revealed that 2% of people paid a bribe within the last 12 months to access basic services: 1% for public clinics and health centres, and 1% for police; among the lowest levels in Europe. The highest perception of corruption among the public was that of Members of Parliament: 33%, followed by government officials: 25%, and lastly police: 14%.[27]

By location[edit]

Portugal's largest metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto are the main sources of both petty and violent crime.[11]

  • Greater Lisbon: Theft is widespread in tourist destinations in the Greater Lisbon area such as the towns of Sintra, Cascais, and Mafra. Casal Ventoso, a neighbourhood of Lisbon where drug traffickers and drug users used to gather, was demolished in response to its increasingly unsavoury reputation. Amadora, the municipality where Buraca and the feared Cova da Moura neighbourhood is located, is a stopping point for many of the displaced people of the former Casal Ventoso, and Marvila (a parish in eastern area of the Lisbon municipality), neighbourhoods. Some areas of the municipalities of Odivelas, Loures and Vila Franca de Xira around the Portuguese capital also have a higher incidence of crime. Automobile break-ins sometimes occur in parking areas at tourist attractions and near restaurants. There are reports of organised crime and gangs.
  • Greater Porto: There have been reports of theft and violent crime in the area. Some places such as train stations, the Ribeira neighbourhood in Porto, as well as some areas of the Gondomar and Valongo municipalities have been especially problematic. There are reports of organised crime and gangs.
  • Algarve: There are few reports of organised crime or gangs, however, as a major centre of international tourism, and located in a corner of Europe geographically close to Northern Africa, the region has been noted for the growing number of cases related to drug trafficking. Pickpockets and other petty criminals exist in moderate numbers (e.g. in Faro). A wave of violent crime targeting wealthy foreign expatriates and tourists residing in the region was noted since the late 2000s economic crisis, which brought decreasing economic opportunities for African, Eastern European and South American immigrants, and a rise in the number of unemployed Portuguese.
  • Azores (archipelago): Pickpocketing and purse snatching are not common occurrences in the Azores. There are no reports of organised crime or gangs.
  • Madeira (archipelago): Pickpocketing, while infrequent, may occur in some areas of Funchal, such as at Pico do Arieiro, Mercado dos Lavradores, Zona Velha (near the cable car), Old Town, and Santa Catarina Park.[28]

Other cities where some violent crime occurs are Aveiro, Braga and Coimbra.

Regions such as Setúbal, Alentejo and Ribatejo are the safest areas next to Lisbon, with lower crime levels compared to the capital.

Crime dynamics[edit]

The crime rate rose in the 1990s, reaching an all-time high during much of the decade. It still is low compared to other developed countries, and has decreased substantially beginning in the 2000s. Violent crime also rose during the same period and reached record highs before falling.[29][30][31]


Victims of crime should report to the nearest police station, national republican guard station, judiciary police post, or directly to the public prosecution services. The national telephone emergency number is 112, which is used throughout the European Union. To file a criminal complaint online, victims may use the official Electronic Complaint System Portal (Portuguese; Portal do Sistema Queixa Eletrónica) administered by the Ministry of Internal Administration.[32]

The law enforcement and justice system assists victims, helping them to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, explain how further legal procedures could be used, understand the criminal justice process, obtain financial compensation, and find an attorney if necessary.

Portugal has a crime victim's assistance program administered through an organization known as the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (official abbreviation "APAV"; Portuguese; Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima). The organization operates a free victims support telephone hotline on weekdays from 9h to 21h, and can be reached by dialing number 116 006, in addition to their website. Services are available in a variety of languages.[33]

Tolerance of drugs[edit]

Portugal has arguably the most liberal laws concerning the possession and use of illicit drugs in the Western world. In 2001 Portugal decriminalised possession of effectively all drugs that are still illegal in other developed nations including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and LSD. However while drug consumption is not a crime, it is considered an illness, and people who use drugs are in most cases required to undergo rehabilitation. While possession is not a crime, trafficking and possession of amounts greater than "10 days worth of personal use" are still punishable by jail time and fines.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Safety and security - Portugal travel advice". GOV.UK. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Global indexes". Vision of Humanity. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  3. ^ "Police in Portugal | Safe Communities Portugal". Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  4. ^ "Portugal". Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Statistics Portugal - Web Portal". Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  6. ^ "Statistics Portugal - Web Portal". Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  7. ^ GJERDINGEN, ulf (29 November 2018). "Portugal". Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings - European Commission. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  8. ^ Demony, Victoria Waldersee, Catarina (24 March 2021). "Confront your colonial past, Council of Europe tells Portugal". Reuters. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  9. ^ Criminalidade, Etnicidade e Desigualdades O crime nos reclusos dos PALOP, Leste Europeu e de etnia cigana e as percepções dos guardas prisionais e dos elementos da direcção acerca deles (Minho University)
  10. ^ "Statistics Portugal - Web Portal". Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  11. ^ a b US Department of State, TRAVEL.STATE.GOV - Portugal Archived 24 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine, US Department of State
  12. ^ People & Power, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera (March 2008)
  13. ^ "Competitiveness Rankings". Global Competitiveness Report 2019. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  14. ^ Lois, Elisa (9 August 2018). "Arrest of 85-year-old drug lord confirms return of historical gangs to Galicia". EL PAÍS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  15. ^ a b "The Cartel's Colour | Small Wars Journal". Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  16. ^ "Portugal". Il Fatto Quotidiano (in Italian). Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  17. ^ ProPublica, Story by Sebastian Rotella. "Gangsters of the Mediterranean". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Portugal police raid 'Russian football gang'". BBC News. 4 May 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  19. ^ "Police dismantle Russian money laundering ring operating in the football sector". Europol. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  20. ^ "Nine 'Georgian Mafia' convicts released". Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  21. ^ Sleinan, Julett Pineda. "Portuguese Authorities Arrest Members of Montenegrin Mafia". Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  22. ^ Janeiro, Mariana Oliveira e Nuno Amaral, Rio de. "Autoridades portuguesas em alerta para eventual presença do PCC no país". PÚBLICO (in Portuguese). Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  23. ^ "The Cartel's Colour | Small Wars Journal". Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Investigação detecta membros do PCC em EUA, Europa e América do Sul". (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  25. ^ "PCC-'Ndrangheta, the International Criminal Alliance Flooding Europe with Cocaine". InSight Crime. 8 August 2019. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 for Portugal". Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  27. ^ "Results - Europe and Central Asia - 9th Edition - GCB". Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  28. ^ "16 Tourist targeted scams in Portugal". Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  29. ^ (in Portuguese) "Portugal surge em terceiro lugar no ranking dos países da União Europeia (UE) onde mais aumentou o número de crimes violentos e de roubos na década de 1995 a 2005.", Licínio Lima, Crescem o roubo e crime violento Archived 7 July 2012 at, Diário de Notícias (27 November 2007)
  30. ^ Distribuição da evolução global - Todos os Departamentos Archived 1 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Polícia de Segurança Pública
  31. ^ "The greatest rises were in France, Greece and Portugal (16%),...", International Review of Crime Statistics, International Review of Crime Statistics
  32. ^ "What to do if you are a victim". Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  33. ^ "APAV EN". Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  34. ^ Soares, Eduardo (July 2016). "Decriminalization of Narcotics: Portugal". Retrieved 24 February 2021.

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