What is a “joint customs operation”?
Joint customs operations are carried out to specifically target smuggling and customs fraud in certain high-risk areas (e.g. EU Eastern border) or along identified trade routes (e.g. incoming trains from Asia, ship containers arriving in EU ports with cargo from third countries). These operations help to improve cooperation between the countries involved in tackling smuggling and customs fraud. They also help to develop greater insight into where the risks lie on specific trade routes. Joint customs operations not only safeguard the EU's financial interests, but also protect the citizens and legitimate businesses by intercepting illegal products entering the EU.
Operation Barrel targeted smuggling of tobacco products and synthetic drug precursors transported by rail.
Who decided to organise Operation Barrel?
Operation Barrel was an initiative of the Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and coordinated by the Polish Customs Service with the cooperation of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
24 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), the candidate country Croatia, the EFTA countries Norway and Switzerland, and Turkey participated in the operation. The Commission’s Directorate General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD), EUROPOL, FRONTEX and the World Customs Organization (WCO) provided their support.
Who were the main actors involved in the operation?
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) provided logistical and technical support to allow for an exchange of information and intelligence in real-time throughout the operation. The operation was coordinated from the Permanent Operational Coordination Unit (POCU) in the OLAF premises in Brussels. This facilitated direct communication with the national contact points. Liaison officers, representing all participating EU Member States, worked from here during the operation.
What was the role of Europol?
Europol participated as observer in this operation in the framework of the protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The names of individuals and companies appearing in the operation were cross-checked with Europol. A representative of Europol was present at the POCU during the operational phase of the joint customs operation. Via a secure internet connection, it was possible to make direct cross-checks of individuals and companies.
What was seized?
The operation resulted in the seizure of approximately 1 200 000 cigarettes.
What happened to the goods that were seized?
Smuggled cigarettes are seized and destroyed on the basis of the Community Customs Code (Council Regulation (EC) No. 2913/92) by customs authorities.
What sanctions/fines will the companies and individuals who are caught face?
Penalties for smugglers and traffickers are fixed at national level, and differ according to the Member State in which the company/suspect is caught.
Did Operation Barrel help to prevent any losses to the EU and Member States' budgets?
As a result of the operation, potential losses to the budgets of the European Union and its Member States, in the form of customs duties and taxes, of approximately a quarter of a million euros were avoided.