A pirate television distribution company with close to half a million users has been dismantled in Formentera de Segura by the Guardia Civil of Alicante.

Three British men, aged 30, 46 and 63, have been arrested for allegedly committing crimes including tax fraud, social security fraud, money laundering, misappropriation of property and belonging to a criminal gang.

The three detainees had set up a digital television platform through which they fraudulently facilitated channels that would normally have to be paid for to half a million foreign clients throughout the Vega Baja.

The operation was only discovered after the owner of a neighbouring finca discovered a huge satellite dish on his land that was impossible to remove without heavy machinery as it had been cemented into the ground. On his discovery, he alerted the Guardia Civil.

The Guardia investigation team then followed the satellite dish cable and noticed that it stopped inside the grounds of a disused warehouse.

Once the identity of the person that rented the warehouse had been determined, officers began their surveillance operation to undercover what was really taking place there.

The gang consisted of a satellite dish installer and a computer expert and between them they were able to decipher the encrypted codes on the tv channels so that the subscribers, who each paid 25 euro a month, could watch any channel or digital platform of their choice.

The illegal television company had been running for less than a year, making a profit of close to half a million euro. None of the earnings had been declared and no tax was paid, and the money was subsequently laundered via payments through the bank, always under 3,000 euro so as not to be detected by the Bank of Spain.

At the warehouse in Formentera de Segura and in a property in Rojales, Guardia Civil officers seized 40,000-euro-worth of satellite dishes and receivers, decoders and modulators.

The head of the gang was arrested during one of his rare visits to Spain, and after passing before the judge, the three were released on bail.