EU fighting Customs Fraud – JRC research leads to new legislation

ConTraffic HomepageA new regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council will allow customs to access information to track the origins and routes of cargo containers arriving in the EU to support the fight against customs fraud both at EU and national level. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been instrumental in the conception and adoption of this legislation as it provided the scientific evidence on the importance of analysing the electronic records on cargo container traffic.

The EU customs authorities have been long aware that information on the logistics and actual routes of cargo containers arriving in Europe is valuable for the fight against customs fraud. However, they had very limited ways to obtain such information and no means to systematically analyse cargo container traffic both for fraud investigations as well as for risk analysis. On the other hand, the ocean carriers that transport the cargo containers, as well as their partners and clients, have easy on-line access to the so-called Container Status Messages (CSM): electronic records which describe the logistics and the routes followed by cargo containers.

jrc-cargo-container-routes-world-mapIn collaboration with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the JRC has worked extensively on how to exploit CSM data for customs anti-fraud purposes. The JRC proposed techniques, developed the necessary technology, and ran long-term experiments involving hundreds of EU customs officers to validate the usefulness of using CSM data. The results of this research led the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal that would enable Member States and OLAF to systematically use CSM data for these anti-fraud purposes. It also served to convince Member States of the value of the proposed provisions.

The financial gains from the avoidance of duties, taxes, rates and quantitative limits constitute an incentive to commit fraud and allow the capacity to properly investigate in cases, such as mis-declaration of the origin of imported goods. The information extracted from the CSM data can facilitate the investigation of some types of false origin-declarations. With the new legislation an importer will no longer be able to declare – without raising suspicions – country X as dispatch/origin of goods if these were transported in a cargo container that started in country Z (as indicated by the CSM data).

jrc-csm-dataset-world-map (1)The technologies, know-how and experience in handling CSM data, developed by the JRC through its experimental ConTraffic platform, will be used by OLAF to set up the system needed to implement this new legislation applicable as from 1 September 2016. The JRC will continue to analyse large datasets of CSM records (hundreds of millions per year) as these are expected to be made available through the new legislation and will continue to support not only this new regulation but to exploit the further uses of this data notably for security and safety and real-time operations. Its focus will be on data mining, new automated analysis techniques and domain-specific visual analytics methods. Source and Images: EU Commission

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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