WCO 2017 Photo Winner – Kyrgyzstan!

WCO Photo competetion winner 2017

Congratulations to Kyrgyzstan – a worthy winner considering the environmental elements. To view all the other entrants click here!

Source: WCO


Customs Vietnam make 2nd huge Ivory Bust in a fortnight

Vietnam Custom ivory seizureCustoms officers in central Vietnam have seized a tonne of ivory and four tonnes of the scaly hide of the pangolin, according to authorities today.

Officials found the contraband on Tuesday inside a shipping container labelled as carrying red beans from Malaysia that arrived at the central port city of Da Nang on Aug 10.

“This is the largest amount of ivory and pangolin smuggling we have discovered in Da Nang,” Dang Van Toan, the port’s head of customs, told the German Press Agency.

The pangolin is an endangered type of armoured anteater found in parts of Asia and Africa. The flesh is sold as an exclusive, but illegal, meat, and the hide is used for traditional medicine and fashion.

The weight of the hides found this week corresponds to around 4,000 individuals, Le Xuan Canh, former head of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, told DPA. Tuesday’s haul brings to nearly eight tonnes the total of tusks, horns and hide from endangered species impounded over the past two weeks in Da Nang.

Last Friday the port’s customs officers seized more than two tonnes of elephant tusks. Eight days earlier they confiscated nearly a tonne of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns, authorities said.

The three shipments were posted to two local companies, which have denied any knowledge of the smuggling, said Pham Van Thieng, deputy head of the central region’s anti-smuggling team.

Trafficking of endangered species and their parts violates international law. Like elephant ivory and rhino horn, pangolin is considered a sign of status among some of Vietnam’s wealthy elite.

Biggest bust of Rhino Horn at a South African airport

Biggest bust of Rhino Horn at a South African airportSARS Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) last week intercepted over 41kg of rhino horns – with a total value of over R4.5 million – transiting through the airport. This is the biggest ever seizure of rhino horn by the SARS Customs team at OR Tambo International, Johannesburg.

As a result of profiling two foreign nationals travelling from Maputo to Vietnam via Johannesburg,  their baggage was intercepted during a stop-over at ORTIA. A Customs detector dog “Mimmo” reacted positively to two bags. The tags found on the bags also did not correspond to the tags presented to Customs officials during the initial questioning of the passengers. This is a practice commonly found with narcotics smuggling syndicates.

The bags had a strong garlic and glue smell, (a tactic to distract detector dogs). Further to the plastic wrapped horns, the zips of the bags were also glued in an effort to keep the odour intact and to make the inspection difficult. Subsequent physical inspection of the bags by Customs officials revealed the rhino horn allegedly being smuggled by the two travellers. Source: SARS

WCO and UAE Customs launch IPM Mobile

IPM interface GSMaThe World Customs Organization (WCO), in cooperation with the Federal Customs Authority of the United Arab Emirates (FCA), has officially launched the ‘IPM Mobile’ application, enabling Customs officers equipped with a mobile device to access IPM immediately when faced with a suspicious product.

Launched in 2010, the WCO’s online anti-counterfeiting tool IPM provides a communication hub between Customs officers on the ground and the private sector by allowing them to exchange crucial information in real-time in order to intercept counterfeit goods.

With the launch of the mobile application, field Customs officers can now access IPM via their mobile devices and retrieve all relevant information contained in the database. Several new features have been added to the mobile version such as the possibility to send or receive alerts regarding possible shipment of counterfeit goods, and, when faced with suspicious merchandise, Customs officers can contact right holders immediately and upload photos of the products in question.

This new version also allows using mobile devices to scan industry standard GS1 barcodes found on millions of products, enabling to search the products database more quickly. The unique product identifier embedded in the GS1 bar code facilitates access to multiple databases providing trusted sources of product information.

Scanning the barcodes enables automatic connection to any authentication services linked to the product controlled. This new feature is known as IPM Connected – a global network of security features providers (SFP) interfaced with IPM.

In cooperation with the FCA and the private sector, the WCO unveiled the IPM Mobile programme during a two-day workshop held in Dubai on 16-17 April. During this workshop, Customs officers tested the tool on a number of counterfeit and genuine products and were trained to make informed decision with the information contained in the IPM database.

Faced with the growing trade in counterfeit goods, the WCO and its Members are determined to develop the most efficient tools to fight this menace. Safeguarding the health and safety of consumers across the globe is one of the WCO’s priorities, and IPM’s mobile version is a significant step forward” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya.

Secretary General Mikuriya added, “Working with the UAE on this pilot phase was an obvious choice given our previous successful cooperation to launch the PC version back in April 2012. The WCO appreciates the UAE’s ongoing efforts to tackle the illicit trade of counterfeit and pirated goods.”

The UAE is the first country to use the IPM Mobile application and will contribute to developing the tool before the official worldwide launch in June 2014 during the WCO’s General Council Meeting.

“The UAE is keen to support plans for facilitating trade and fighting counterfeit according to the established principles of the federation state including the protection of IPRs and fighting piracy and counterfeiting as they have serious economic and social impacts that may jeopardize the security of the society, consumer and producer altogether” said Khalid Al Bustani, Acting Director General of the Federal Customs Authority.

“The application is launched as a part of fulfilling the requirements of the smart government initiative announced last year by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum by providing governmental services on mobiles”, continued Al Bustani. Source: WCO

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Australia – Seized Customs goods stolen

Oz CustomsCorrupt customs officials have stolen – and possibly sold – seized goods earmarked for destruction, exposing ”extremely haphazard” governance within the agency charged with protecting Australia’s borders. Files from Customs’ internal affairs department also suggest the organisation had no policy to ensure its favoured gun dealers were actually licensed to sell the firearms it had ordered.

Fairfax has obtained the files after a two-year freedom of information battle. The documents reveal an agency overwhelmed by the threat of organised crime, but they also expose several serious management failures in the organisation’s senior ranks.

In the middle of 2008, for example, a licensed weapons dealer threatened to sue Customs, alleging its Weapons and Strategic Goods group, which armed front-line officers with items such as Glock handguns and capsicum spray, was buying weapons ”from a person not authorised to deal in such weapon types”. Investigators did not find any ”discrepancies”, but along the way they made a startling discovery: ”No specific checks [are] conducted regarding appropriate licensing when purchasing weapons.”

On Saturday, Fairfax Media reported that internal inquiries into Customs staff led to adverse findings in about two-thirds of 700 cases between 2007 and 2010. In one case, an officer was caught in June 2009 removing cigarettes marked for destruction from a detained goods facility. He was fined $1500, but the whistleblower had told investigators ”others may be involved and quantities could be much higher”. Internal affairs went on to identify the problem as a ”systemic issue”.

In Queensland about the same time, an audit of one of Customs’ Detained Goods Management stores ”revealed a stock shortage of 1200 sticks of tobacco from the February 2008 DGM stocktake”. A number of Customs officers working in the cargo group were identified by the investigation, the ”goods [were] established as unaccounted for”, and questions were raised about why it was that ”half of staff” in the division had access to the DGM. ”No accountability and controls in place,” Internal Affairs noted in its report. ”Procedures in place at the DGM … were extremely haphazard … poor supervisory and fraudulent records identified.”

The final reports recommended new standard operating protocols for all Customs storage facilities. Several officers may have faced disciplinary proceedings as a result of the inquiry, the files suggest.

At one point, Customs investigators feared poor control of seized goods extended to far more dangerous goods, after a February 2009 audit of the seized goods facility in Queensland reported that more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition ”with a variety of associated equipment” had gone missing. But Customs now says this was just another case of poor management, after major accounting errors were identified in the audit.

The files also raise serious questions about financial controls within the organisation. Customs chief executive Mike Pezzullo (no relation to me) said on Saturday he was planning to overhaul the organisation’s internal affairs unit. Source: The Age (Australia)

New screening system to stop Customs queues at Mumbai airport

India customs_SnapseedIn a bid to make security checks less frazzling for international fliers after their arrival in the city, the Mumbai airport Customs have adopted an advanced in-line screening system to avoid inconveniencing commuters in the green channel. Installed two weeks ago, the system will also help improve screening procedure.

Earlier, every single item of luggage was screened at the Customs exit points, which led to long queues where passengers had to wait for hours before they could exit. With the new advanced screening system installed at the starting point of conveyor belts, the luggage will be screened before it is put on the belt from where the passenger picks it up and walks through the green channel.

“Earlier, there used to be a huge queue at the Customs checkpoints as each and every bag was screened there, and if anything was found to be suspicious, the screening for the following bags was stalled, putting other passengers on hold. With the new system, a foolproof screening would be done before the baggage makes it to the conveyor belt,” said a Mumbai airport Customs official, on the condition of anonymity.

“During screening, if any suspicious or undeclared items are found, the baggage would be marked and put on the conveyor belt. The Customs officer inspecting the luggage would pick it up to ensure that duty fine is imposed or appropriate action is taken,” the official said.

Apart from this, the new system would also be able to screen items concealed in packing, which were not detected by the earlier system and needed a manual check.

Officials further revealed that the Customs department is expecting ISO certification, one of the reasons why the new system was adopted. Apart from this, the Customs have also appointed a nodal agency to take feedback from passengers about the new system. Additional Commissioner Mahendra Pal (Air Intelligence Unit), Mumbai airport Customs, said, “We have adopted a new system which would reduce passenger inconvenience and help make screening better.” Source: www.ndtv.com

Customs 2013 – the Year of Innovation

web_innovationWhile contemplating next year’s challenges and opportunities, I suppose it’s not a bad time to reflect on the WCO‘s theme for Customs Inc. in 2013. The Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, is pleased to announce that 2013 will be dedicated to promoting innovation under the slogan “Innovation for Customs progress”. He believes that WCO Members and their partners will have the opportunity to promote innovative ideas and practices that they have implemented, new partnerships that they have developed, as well as creative solutions and technologies that they have adopted. Customs and its stakeholders are urged to be innovative and creative in taking forward the innovation theme in all its facets throughout 2013.

The Year of innovation will be launched on International Customs Day, celebrated annually by the global Customs community on 26 January in honour of the inaugural session of the Customs Co-operation Council (CCC) which took place on 26 January 1953.

Considering the age of the WCO (CCC), I thought the pictures below might conjure up some yesteryear profiles of male and female customs officers. These come from a book A Ladybird ‘Easy-Reading’ Book – ‘People at Work’ – The CUSTOMS OFFICER, which was around when I was a youngster in primary school. Needless to say, the content is perhaps meaningless where the period ‘gate-keeper’ approach to customs control has since been superseded by ‘automated risk management’, i.e. where a computer tells a customs officer what to search for, or what is suspicious or worthwhile expending energy on. Passenger processing has likewise seen a revolution in technology aids and controlled procedures. In many places it is the biometric reader which ‘facilitates’ expedited passenger/traveller processing. While verbal interrogation is still used it is merely a ‘level’ in the ‘layered’ approach in the modern customs risk management process. X-ray body scanners and drug-loo’s complete the customs officer’s enforcement toolkit. Yet, it still takes the ingenuity of a customs officer (and many instances his detector dog) to raise the ‘portcullis’ on crime.

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WCO 2012 Photo Competition winner

This year’s entries provide a wealth of historic and ‘yesteryear’ character in testimony to the traditional role of customs officers. I for one feel this portrayal is the more lasting impression that real customs officers will remember. While the modern border officer certainly has a lot more gizmo’s and sophisticated gadgetry at his/her disposal, it somehow offers little more than superficial value. Even the digital photographs of today require manipulation to introduce period artefacts or correction to create the desired result.

This years winning entry was submitted by Slovakia Customs. It depicts a fulltime customs officer of the Financial Guard on duty at the Klokočov road crossing point on the border between Slovakia and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, sitting with his young daughter on his lap.

The modern world’s seeming disdain of family values is in stark contrast to the natural warmth of a father and child in this picture. This would be unheard of in many jurisdictions of paranoia we call the customs and border control environment today. We grow evermore suspicious and untrusting of our fellow citizens to the danger that the essential purpose and physical portrayal of public service is an after-thought.

The WCO has put together a wonderful compendium of all this year’s entries. This is a competition not so much about a winner, but a celebration of the wealth and depth of customs tradition accross the globe. Click here to view all the entries!

Customs Core Skills – in danger of extinction or a casualty of progress?

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!

Mobile Customs Control – Great minds think alike

Beitbridge inspection area6 December 2010 saw the rollout of a new electronic tool for customs inspectors at Beitbridge border post. The need for a hand-held device was identified following the rollout of a new workflow system, called Service Manager, to various Customs offices over the past few months. Although the changes introduced recently were aimed at moving Customs to a totally paperless environment, customs inspectors still had to print out their instructions on paper, manually write down the inspection results and then recapture these onto the system back in the office.

The use of an iPod by a Customs officer to conduct a physical inspection at Beitbridge this week introduces significant enhancements over the previous manual process. SARS has been liaising with iPod experts in various countries around the world over the past few months to develop this function and procure the devices.

The solution comprises an Apple iPod Touch which has been configured to operate SARS’ automated inspection workflow application – Service Manager. The introduction of a hand-held device therefore means that all the functions of Service Manager are now at the inspector’s finger-tips. Inspectors receive their instructions on the iPod, capture the results and make recommendations which then go to the finalisation/adjustment inspector. They can even take photographs with the iPod if they need further clarification on the goods they are inspecting. Inspectors no longer have to go back and forth to the office and their next job can be assigned to them on the spot. This is expected to substantially reduce the time spent on physical inspections and minimise human error.

Initially 34 iPods were procured for Beitbridge, WiFi technology was made available at the port and training of affected staff undertaken. All physical inspections at Beitbridge were being conducted with iPods and will be rolled out to the other Customs border posts throughout 2012.

While SARS’ solution is the first known Apple solution of its kind, similar solutions have been introduced recently within the US Bureau for Customs and Border Control and the Australian Border Control Agency offering varying types of functionality, including the integration of RFID technology by the Australians to monitor and track cargo movements. Life for Customs officers is a whole different and will continue to evolve if it expects to remain in touch with modern era fraud and scams.