Operation “Warehouse” – Joint Customs Operation prevents losses to the EU States

OLAFAlmost 45 million smuggled cigarettes, nearly 140.000 litres of diesel fuel and about 14.000 litres of vodka were seized during a major Joint Customs Operation (JCO). The Operation code-named “Warehouse” was carried-out in October 2013 by the Lithuanian Customs Service and the Lithuanian Tax Inspectorate in close cooperation with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), and with the participation of all 28 EU member states. As a result of Operation “Warehouse”, a significant potential loss to the budgets of the European Union and its Member States was prevented. According to preliminary estimates, this would have amounted to about € 9 million in the form of evaded customs duties and taxes. The final results of the Operation were discussed by the participants last week at a debriefing meeting in Vilnius and were made public today across Europe.

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for taxation, customs, anti-fraud and audit, welcomed the very good results of the operation. “The fight against the smuggling of excise goods is one of our political priorities and we have launched a number of initiatives to better equip Europe against such harmful practices being run by organised criminal networks. JCO Warehouse is a good example of how the EU and Member States’ authorities can cooperate effectively to protect their revenue. Joint Customs Operations safeguard the EU’s financial interests and also protect our citizens and legitimate businesses”, he said. “Such Operations also highlight the added-value of OLAF in helping facilitate the exchange of information between our partners across Europe and in providing effective operational support.”

Operation “Warehouse” focused on cargo movement by road transport. It targeted the smuggling and other forms of illegal trade of excise goods such as mineral oil, tobacco products and alcohol throughout Europe. By using several complex scenarios in multiple EU Member States, fraudsters lawfully import goods into the EU but request a VAT and excise exemption by declaring the goods as subject to tax and duty exemption regimes (e.g. declaring the goods to be in transit). The trace of the goods is then lost through the fictitious disappearance of the traders or through a fictitious export. Fraudsters avoid paying VAT and excise duties, but the goods remain in the internal market, causing a substantial loss to the EU’s and Member States’ revenues.

JCO “Warehouse” was the first Operation carried-out in close cooperation with tax authorities to target excise and VAT fraud specifically, besides customs fraud. For the first time, customs and tax authorities cooperated on a European scale in a JCO. This is a significant achievement since the different competences and legal regimes applicable at national and EU level make it difficult to address complex fraud schemes with uniform measures. In this Operation, customs and tax authorities joined their expertise, resources and shared intelligence to prevent losses to the EU’s and Member States’ budget.

Eight seizures were made during the Operation. Among these, authorities seized 6.617.400 cigarettes in Sweden and Lithuania; 135.831 litres of diesel in Poland and the United Kingdom, and 14.025,6 litres of vodka in United Kingdom alone. Overall, 44.957.160 cigarettes were seized.

During the entire Operation “Warehouse”, OLAF provided organisational, logistical, financial and technical support to allow for an exchange of information and intelligence in real-time. This was coordinated from the Physical Operational Coordination Unit (P-OCU) at the OLAF premises in Brussels which facilitated direct communication with the national contact points. A group of liaison officers from some Member States representing all the participating 28 EU countries, worked from here during the Operation and experts from the Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union provided support.

EUROPOL participated as an observer in the Operation. A representative of the office was present at the P-OCU during the operational phase of the operation. It was also possible to make direct cross-checks of suspect individuals and companies appearing during the JCO with EUROPOL via a secure internet connection. Source: EU Commission

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Warehouse Operators – Easy prey for HMRC

warehousingThere is growing evidence that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has begun a campaign to target warehouse keepers and hauliers who may unknowingly be handling excise goods on which the duty has yet to be paid.

And the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) is warning that any company found guilty of storing goods on which duty is outstanding could face ‘financial ruin’ – even if the storage company was unaware that duty had not been paid.

“While HMRC has had the authority to assess anyone for duty on goods illegally diverted from bonded movements who was ‘aware or should reasonably have been aware’ of the diversion at any point in the supply chain since 2010, action has been spasmodic,” says Alan Powell of Alan Powell Associates, UKWA’s honorary adviser on Customs & Excise Matters.

“However,” he continues, “HMRC is deploying more officers to investigate excise goods supply chains. As a result, we are now increasingly seeing third party service providers, including hauliers, warehouse keepers and lessors of property, such as barns and outbuildings, being penalised by HMRC as a result of their involvement with businesses that have evaded duty on alcohol and have absconded – so called ‘missing traders’.”

Anyone found to have held or dealt in duty-unpaid excise goods, can be fined up to 100% of the duty evaded, as Alan Powell explains: “HMRC had been slow to apply what are called ‘excise wrong-doing penalties’ but are now vigorously applying them.  As a result, many small and medium companies are facing unexpected bills and penalties from HMRC of hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Allan Powell continues: “In simple terms, if an organisation has been involved at any stage in the supply of goods that have been illicitly diverted from a bonded supply chain, that  organisation could be liable for duty – even if that organisation is not directly responsible for the diversion.

“Essentially, anyone handling duty-unpaid product is classed as being ‘contaminated’ within the supply chain and assessed for the duty.”

In one particular instance, a storage company is facing a duty bill alone for nearly £100,000 after HMRC inspectors found duty-unpaid alcohol stored at the company’s site.

“The storage company was simply unaware about the risks involved in handling loads of duty un-paid alcohol and the director of the company to whom they leased the space has disappeared,” says UKWA’s chief executive officer, Roger Williams.

The message from Alan Powell and UKWA is that if you offer third party logistical services of any kind, you must check what is being handled or stored – do not take storage requirements on face value.

Alan Powell says: “Always be wary and query the business need, checking out with HMRC if possible.  If in any doubt, do NOT become involved – it could end very badly.” Source: www.ukwa.org.uk.

Read a followup article by – UKWA :Don’t be fazed by HMRC move (Lloyds List)

Transgenic tobacco – an inexpensive cure for rabies?

New research has found that tobacco plants can be genetically modified to produce antibodies against the rabies virus. (Source - Gizmag.com)

New research has found that tobacco plants can be genetically modified to produce antibodies against the rabies virus. (Source – Gizmag.com)

We are familiar with the tobacco plant being harvested to create products that damage our health, but a new study from the Hotung Molecular Immunology Unit at St George’s University in London has shown that tobacco plants can be genetically modified to produce rabies antibodies. It’s hoped that the research will deliver a safe, inexpensive way of treating rabies in developing countries.

If untreated, rabies can infect the central nervous system and lead to death. According to the World Health Organization, rabies occurs in more than 150 countries and territories around the world, killing 55,000 people every year, mostly in Asia and Africa. Treating it with human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG) is expensive, a factor which the St George’s researchers believe can be addressed using this new approach.

The new study involved “humanizing” the genetic sequences for the murine monoclonal antibody – an antibody found in rodents that has been found to immunize against rabies – so that it could be tolerated by people. The tobacco plant was then turned into a “production platform” to carry the antibody.

The antibody produced from the genetically altered (or transgenic) plants was then investigated for its impact on rabies. It was found to be effective in treating a broad range of rabies viruses by preventing the virus from attaching itself to nerve endings around the bite, which stops it from traveling to the brain through the nerves.

“An untreated rabies infection is nearly 100 per cent fatal and is usually seen as a death sentence,” says St George’s PhD researcher Leonard Both. “Producing an inexpensive antibody in transgenic plants opens the prospect of adequate rabies prevention for low-income families in developing countries.”

The findings could lead to further research involving other plants, although tobacco remains an attractive proposition as it is not a food crop. The study was recently published in The FASEB JournalSource: St George’s University

While health advocates and tree huggers will be delighted with this development, it will hardly generate sufficient opportunity for ‘real’ tobacco farmers. Secondly (and most importantly), those governments who are pushing for stringent tobacco legislation need to realise that their ‘cash crop’ and revenue income by-product is about to dry up…..how else are they going to extort much-needed tax revenues?

New Edition – World Customs Journal

A much-awaited edition of the World Customs Journal has been published and is available on their website follow this link. In his editorial, Professor David Widdowson reflects on the recent WCO conference on Excise Administration and Enforcement.  “An important subject for discussion at the Excise Summit was the increasing incidence of illicit international trade, particularly in relation to alcohol and tobacco products, and we are pleased to provide a useful overview of the topic in Section 3 of this edition of the World Customs Journal”, states Professor Widdowson (World Customs Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, p. v).  It is not often that the subject of Excise attracts much or any real conference publicity, so it is all the more a treat to have such a bumper edition on the subject with papers and articles from academics and practitioners.

In South Africa, the subject is somewhat subdued given the emphasis and prominence accorded to the Customs Modernisation Programme. Of late there have been determined efforts within the SARS administration to initiate some focus on Excise. This is only right since many of the so-called excise manufacturers and supporting industries play a significant role not only towards their contribution to the South African fiscus, but likewise have linkages with the import and export logistics supply chain. For this reason alone, the WCJ September 2012 Edition comes at a fortuitous time. I would also encourage you to read the article by Elizabeth Allen (a collaborator on my blog) titled – The Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products and How to Tackle It. 

New Issue of the World Customs Journal

The latest edition of the World Customs Journal (March 2012) comprises what appears to be a disparate array of topics. Professor David Widdowson invites your attention to the underlying theme of contrasting approaches to universal imperatives which permeates several of the contributions, which includes, for example,

  • a comparative analysis of excise taxation across the ASEAN region and identifies the need for standardisation in readiness for the impending introduction of the ASEAN Economic Community. It’s nice, for a change to have articles which deal with Excise.
  • a research paper concerning the diversity of de minimis arrangements in the APEC region, highlighting their impact on economic benefits and costs.
  • a review of a variety of regional approaches to coordinated border management, and
  • the introduction of the EU’s electronic customs environment as a means of achieving regional standardisation.

The underlying commonality of border management imperatives is also reflected in this edition’s Special Report. In his insightful article ‘Lines and Flows: the Beginning and End of Borders’ Alan Bersin (former Commissioner of the CBP) challenges the traditional concept of international borders, and introduces a paradigm that views global cooperation as a fundamental requirement for effective border management. The next edition of the Journal will focus on excise policy and practice, and will include papers presented at the World Customs Organization’s Global Excise Summit which will be held on 2-3 July at the WCO Headquarters in Brussels. Source: The World Customs Journal.

Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, 2011 – Impact on Customs

As if the myriad of changes affecting the Customs industry are not enough, there’s some more important considerations for customs traders and practitioners, soon, posed by the Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill [2011].

Goods Sold in Bond. For the purposes of the VAT Act, the Bill proposes that ‘the value to be placed on the importation of goods into the Republic which have been imported and entered for storage in a licensed Customs and Excise storage warehouse but have not been entered for home consumption shall be deemed to be the greater of the value determined in terms of subsection (2)(a) or the value of acquisition determined under section 10(3) if those goods while stored in that storage warehouse are supplied to any person before being entered for home consumption.’

Duty free goods imported on a temporary basis. Goods imported in terms of Rebate Item 470.03, which are duty free, will in future have to be declared under a specific rebate sub-item for duty free goods. In addition, provision is also to be made for the importer of duty free goods, where the importer is contractually entitled to keep a portion of the goods manufactured, processed, finished, equipped or packed in lieu of payment for the operations carried out, that importer must:
a) export those goods within the 12 month period, or
b) process a goods declaration for payment of the VAT on the goods retained and pass a voucher of correction amending the quantity and value of the original declaration.

New tax incentives for Industrial Development Zones. Government is seeking to renew its efforts to enhance the Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) regime to encourage industrial development within certain geographical areas. The main focus of the incentive is to promote capital expenditure. Greenfield projects receive an additional 55% allowance and brownfield projects receive a further 35% additional allowance. The additional allowance for greenfield projects located in IDZ’s will be increased to 100% (instead of the current 55%) and to 75% for brownfield projects (instead of the current 35%).This change will be welcomed by IDZ Operators that are constantly looking for ways to make IDZ’s more attractive. In terms of the Customs and Excise Act, it should be noted that duty rebate and VAT dispensations ONLY apply to entities establishing licensed premises within the customs controlled area of an IDZ.

For more information on the above please click here!

The Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, 2011 is available on the SARS website.