Brussels, 21 January 2014
Operation "Warehouse": How Joint Customs Operations help to protect the EU's financial interests
What is a "Joint Customs Operation"?
Joint Customs Operations (JCO) 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. JCOs not only safeguard the EU's financial interests, but also protect the citizens and legitimate businesses by intercepting illegal products entering the EU.
The Lithuanian customs administration organised this JCO jointly with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). 28 EU Member States participated (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, Italy, Ireland, Cyprus, United Kingdom and Croatia). The Commission’s Directorate General for Taxation and Customs Union and EUROPOL provided their analytical support.
OLAF provided logistical, financial and technical support to allow for an exchange of information and intelligence in real-time throughout the operation. The operation was coordinated from the Physical Operational Coordination Unit (P-OCU) 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 happens to the seized goods?
Smuggled cigarettes are seized and usually destroyed on the basis of the Community Customs Code ( Council Regulation (EC) No. 2913/92) by customs authorities. The same happens to the seized alcohol.
Other seized goods, e.g. mineral oil, are sold to recover the evaded taxes.
What sanctions/fines do companies and individuals who are caught face?
The persons involved in the detected fraud schemes face prosecution and/or recovery actions from customs and tax authorities. The means of transport used, like cars and lorries can also be seized according to national legislation.
Penalties for smugglers and traffickers are fixed at national level, and tax liabilities of persons involved in committed fraud differ according to European legislation and national legal acts.
What is next?
JCO “Warehouse” was the first operation provided in close cooperation with tax authorities to target excise and VAT fraud.
The outcome of JCO Warehouse highlights the necessity to organize similar types of operations in the near future, preferably in cooperation with tax authorities and selected third countries since this can increase the overall effectiveness and success of JCOs.
Further operations should probably have:
-a longer operational phase;
-target a limited number of states/regions;
-concentrate on certain specific group of goods (mineral oil/alcohol/cigarettes);
-include other means of transport (air/rail, etc).