Brussels, 13 April 2010
Europe strikes against the trafficking of counterfeit goods: results of the Joint Customs Operation “Matthew II”
A Joint Customs Operation code-named Matthew II has led to the seizure of more than 16 million cigarettes, 241 kilograms of tobacco products, 6 400 liters of alcohol, 20 tons of counterfeit perfumes, 53.418 other counterfeit items such as bags, coats, scarves, wallets, and 1.515,75 kilograms of cannabis entering the EU by road via its eastern border. During the operational phase, additional seizures of more than 25 million cigarettes also took place in some EU ports.
Algirdas Semeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Anti-fraud and Audit said: "Operations like these show just how important EU customs are in protecting our citizens and businesses, and how good coordination can really help us to strike against counterfeit products."
This Joint Customs Operation (hereafter “JCO Matthew II”) was aimed at detecting the smuggling of cigarettes in commercial consignments entering the EU by road. Large seizures of cigarettes carried in personal cars and buses were also reported. Controls were focused on means of transport entering the EU customs territory from third countries via the eastern EU border. The operational phase took place from 24 November to 3 December 2009.
The operation was organised by the Czech Republic, in close cooperation with Poland and the European Commission (OLAF) which provided organizational and technical support. All Member States were invited to participate in the JCO Matthew II, as were Europol and the WCO/RILO WE (World Customs Organization / Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Western Europe). The WCO/RILO WE supported the joint operation by means of analytical activity. Selected non-EU Member States (Croatia, Russia, Serbia, Norway and Switzerland) were also invited to participate in this operation.
Those Member States not directly involved in controls at the external border could also participate in the operation by targeting suspected consignments transporting contraband that had evaded detection at the point of entry into the EU. They were also invited to actively participate in exchanging information whenever their country was concerned.
The JCO Matthew II was based on an intensive exchange of information leading to intelligence-based targeting of smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco products transported by road vehicles (private cars, trucks and buses). All participating countries successfully used a specific IT communication tool for the real-time exchange of information and intelligence. It was also the first time that OLAF has made secure internet access available to its communication tool (the Anti-Fraud Information System) for Croatia, Russia and Serbia. In total, there were 455 transport movement reports communicated by the JCO Matthew II participants.
The operation was coordinated at OLAF headquarters in Brussels via a permanent operational co-ordination unit (POCU) staffed by customs liaison officers from 9 EU Member States, 1 liaison officer from Serbia and 1 liaison officer from Europol.
Judging by the good results of JCO Matthew II, the operation can be classified as successful. During the JCO a total of 100 seizures were performed. Most of the seizures related to private cars. In second place were seizures involving the commercial transportation of goods by truck. Other seizures were made in connection with buses and trains.
The above-mentioned results by type of means of transport confirmed the conclusions of the analysis made by the WCO/RILO WE at the request of the Czech Customs Administration, before JCO Matthew II commenced.
During the operational phase of JCO Matthew II all the participants maintained intensive daily contact. These contacts led to improved cooperation between participating customs administrations, the European Commission (OLAF), and all other countries and entities taking part (e.g. Europol and the WCO/RILO WE). Such improved cooperation can be effectively used in other JCOs in the future or in day-to-day intelligence exchanges.
During the operational phase of JCO Matthew II, liaison officers from Europol checked their own databases to search for any additional or supporting information concerning high-risk means of transport, persons or companies checked by participating customs administrations. The Europol liaison officers checked 737 entities in total and made 19 positive hits. All hits were immediately relayed to all participating customs administrations so that they could take the appropriate control measures without delay.
The results of JCO Matthew II can be used as a starting point for other similar operations. Road traffic (especially private cars or trucks) must be classified as high risk. During the operational phase it was found that carriers and drivers had very good knowledge about the technical capacities of various border customs offices. They had probably also been making very effective use of mobile phones to vary their original itineraries according to the nature of control activities performed by customs officers.
Given the successful outcome of JCO Matthew II, and after analyzing the effectiveness of the related activities carried out by all participants (including OLAF, Europol and WCO/RILO WE) during all the phases of the operation, the Czech Republic as the Coordinator of JCO Matthew II recommends organising similar JCOs again in the near future focused on high-value goods carried by road transport.