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Brussels, 23 April 2007

International customs operation “Diabolo”

What is a “joint customs operation”?

Joint customs operations aim at placing under surveillance for a limited period sensitive, prohibited or high-taxed goods and taking appropriate operational measures to prevent any fraud. A common set of criteria is generally used for the assessment of the threat and the definition of risk profiles: the nature of goods, the means of transport and the route followed (point of departure, point of transhipment, point of arrival).

What was the objective of Operation Diabolo?

This joint customs operation was a maritime operation that focused on containers shipped from Asian ASEM[1] ports of loading to EU ports of discharge. The operation focused mainly on counterfeit cigarettes, but the possibility that other counterfeit goods or sensitive goods could be retained or seized by the EU Member States was also incorporated.

Who participated? What is the role of the Commission and OLAF?

All 27 EU Member States participated. The operation was further supported by Interpol, Europol and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), as a European Commission Directorate General, organised Operation Diabolo. It was coordinated by the Permanent Technical Infrastructure supporting Joint Customs Operations (POCU) set up on the OLAF premises in Brussels. As coordinator, OLAF assumed responsibility for the relevant business plan based on a threat assessment with targeted ports of departure, routes and entry points into the EU, as well as transshipment routes and risk indicators, making use of additional information available on container shipping lines, consignees, consignors.

What categories of goods were seized?

Cigarettes and other tobacco products
Coats, jeans, shorts, track trousers, jackets, caps, summer slippers, bags, garments
Sports shoes, sandals, shoes
Mobile phones, autoradios, MP3 players
Poultry meat
Sunglasses, watches, toys, cutlery set

How many joint customs operations have taken place in OLAF’s permanent operational centre so far?

Until now, 10 operations have been coordinated at the OLAF Permanent Technical Infrastructure supporting Joint Customs Operations (POCU). The first operation of this kind was Operation FAKE in 2005. The POCU falls completely within the service platform concept promoted by the Commission for ensuring the structuring and the use of anti-fraud information flows of an operational and strategic nature necessary for improving the overall Community perspective on strengthening cooperation. Three of the 10 operations that have taken place so far have been coordinated by the Commission (OLAF): one targeting counterfeit goods (called "FAKE"), one targeting meat imports ("CALIMERO") and one targeting counterfeit cigarettes ("DIABOLO"). The other 7 operations took place under the leadership of a Member State. Here, the Commission (OLAF) puts its operations centre at the disposal of the Member States, who are able to "book" it.

For what kind of future operation could the operations centre be used?

Decisions about joint customs operation are taken on the basis of threat assessments. The target could be another product subject to restrictions (licence, quota, antidumping duties, etc.) or carried by another type of means of transport (traffic by air, truck, railway, river). Also the region of origin could be different.

What is done with the goods seized?

The seized goods are destroyed on the basis of a definitive judgement qualifying the goods retained counterfeit. Some products are burned (cigarettes) and other products (e.g. sport shoes) can be recycled (e.g. in synthetic football fields).

What sanctions/fines will the companies and individuals caught face?

The natural and physical persons involved as importers, i.e. the final destination of the goods, are the main target of this kind of operations. Without prejudice to the retention or the seizure of the counterfeit goods detected, the sanctions are fixed on the basis of the respective national legislation.

What amount of duties can be recovered thanks to Diabolo?

The joint operation has prevented losses to public budgets, therefore there is no need for recoveries. In seizures of counterfeit cigarettes alone, this operation forestalled potential losses to the budgets of the European Community and its Member States (customs duties and taxes) of approximately EUR 220 million.

What was the cost of operation Diabolo?

Operation DIABOLO forestalled a potential loss of approximately 220 million euros to the budgets of the European Community and its Member States (customs duties and taxes) in seizures of counterfeit cigarettes alone. The budget for the operation as such was around 50,000 euros. At the same time the permanent technical infrastructure set up in OLAF at the one-off cost of 50,000 euros in 2005 demonstrated once again the extra advantages it can offer compared with operations carried out in the Member States, with reductions in costs (3 to 4 times lower) and less time required to mount the operation (3 months instead of 18) making it possible to respond to emergency or crisis situations.

Which is the legal basis for customs operations like Diabolo?

The Commission (OLAF) organized the air and maritime surveillance operation “FAKE” on counterfeit goods on the basis of the provisions in art.18, §3, of the Council Regulation (EC) 515/97[2]. Indeed, the Commission (OLAF) is entitled to invite the Member States to carry out the special surveillance of goods, means of transport, persons, companies and warehouses as foreseen in art.7 of Regulation 515/97.

Since 1st October 1999, DG OLAF (ex UCLAF) is responsible for the enforcement aspects (the investigation and the coordination of the operational activities with the Member States) in customs matters, including those related to the fight against counterfeiting goods along the EU’s external borders. DG TAXUD continues to be responsible for legislation relating to the control of counterfeit goods at the external borders of the EU[3].

[1] The Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal dialogue process initiated in 1996. Now, the 27 EU Member States, the European Commission and thirteen Asian countries participate in the process.

([2]) The Council Regulation (EC) 515/97 of 13 March 1997 related to Mutual Assistance between the administrative authorities of the Members States and the cooperation between them and the Commission in order to ensure the good application of the Customs and Agricultural Regulations

([3]) The Council Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003 of 22 July 2003 concerning customs action against goods suspected of infringing certain intellectual property rights and the measures to be taken against goods found to have infringed such rights presents the various ways of intervention for Customs on behalf of right-holders when goods are suspected of infringement on some intellectual property rights

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