Brussels, 21 January 2014
Operation "Warehouse": Major joint customs operation prevents large losses to the EU's and Member States' budgets
Almost 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.
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