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Brussels, 13 April 2010
Joint customs operation “Matthew II”
What is a “joint customs operation”?
Joint customs operations (JCOs) are carried out with the overall objective of encouraging the effectiveness of operational cooperation between Member States and third countries in combating infringements of Community and/or national customs provisions.
Joint customs operations are aimed at placing shipments under surveillance for a limited period of time in order to detect prohibited or sensitive goods such as narcotics, psychotropic substances, precursor chemicals, firearms, weapons of mass destruction, counterfeit articles, currency movements, goods which pose health risks or highly taxed goods, and involve taking the appropriate operational measures to prevent or detect fraud. A common set of criteria is generally used for the assessment of the threat and the definition of risk profiles: the nature of the goods, the means of transport and the route followed (point of departure, point of transhipment, point of arrival).
Who decided to organise Matthew II?
Within the framework of the EU Customs Co-operation Working Party, Joint Customs Operations have been implemented with the aim of combating the smuggling of fraudulent, sensitive or prohibited goods and improving co-operation between customs authorities and other relevant bodies.
Customs administrations are competent to control and tackle the smuggling of prohibited goods such as narcotic drugs and sensitive goods like counterfeit items, as well as currency movements that may result from illicit activities.
Concerning the above-mentioned JCO, the Czech Republic volunteered to organise an operation targeted at detecting organised crime in the smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco products and counterfeit goods, and disrupting the criminal groups involved in such trafficking.
Twenty-four EU Member States and five third countries (Croatia, Serbia, Norway, Switzerland and Russia) participated in Joint Customs Operation Matthew II. The operation was also supported by the World Customs Organization/ Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Western Europe (WCO/RILO WE) and Europol.
The Czech Republic was the lead country for the JCO Matthew II. The JCO was organised in cooperation with Poland and the European Commission, via theEuropean Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) which provided the organisational and technical support.
The operational phase of the JCO was coordinated by the "Permanent Technical Infrastructure supporting Joint Customs Operations" (POCU) that was set up in the OLAF premises in Brussels. As coordinator, the Czech Republic assumed responsibility for the relevant business plan based on a threat assessment with targeted entry points into the EU and risk indicators, making use of additional information available on trafficking by road, consignors and consignees.
What was the objective of Operation Matthew II?
The operation aimed at detecting the smuggling of cigarettes in commercial consignments entering the Community by road. Large seizures carried in private cars and buses were also targeted. Controls were focused on the means of transport entering the EU customs territory from third countries via the eastern border of the EU.
Those Member States not directly involved in controls at the external border could nevertheless participate in the operation by targeting suspected consignments transporting contraband that evaded detection at the point of entry into the EU. They were also invited to actively participate in the exchanges of information whenever their country was concerned.
What is the EU legal framework?
Council Regulation (EC) No 515/97 of March 1997, modified by Commission Regulation (EC) No 766/2008 related to mutual assistance between the administrative authorities of the Member States and the cooperation between them and the Commission in order to ensure the good application of the customs and agricultural regulations (OJ L82-22.03.1997), provides the legal basis for specific activities of the Member States and the Commission, such as the special watch of goods, means of transport, warehouses and persons, including in the area of the fight against counterfeit goods.
The legal framework for the fight against counterfeiting was modified by the entry into force on 1 July 2004 of 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. This regulation presents the various ways of intervention for customs on behalf of right-holders when goods are suspected of infringing intellectual property rights. DG TAXUD continues to be responsible for the legislation relating to the control of counterfeit goods at the external borders of the EU1.
The other specific convention and agreements mentioned below are also relevant:
How did the Czech Republic and European Commission (OLAF) prepare this operation?
With a view to preparing the operation, the Czech Republic outlined its plans at the CCWP meeting in February 2009. The Business Case contained an objective to make an evaluation of the joint customs operation (JCO) with the code name Matthew 1 and organise a similar operation combating the smuggling of cigarettes by means of road transport.
When the CCWP Meeting agreed the Business Case, the Czech Republic invited all EU Member States and certain selected third countries to participate in the JCO Matthew II.
The Czech Republic created a draft version of the Operational Plan for the operation and distributed it to all its potential participants. This Operational Plan was discussed during the Briefing Meeting that took place in Brussels in June 2009. After agreement of the Operational Plan by all participants of the Briefing meeting, specific activities relating to all the main phases of the operation (training, pre-operational and operational phases and set up of technical conditions of PC access of all participants) were initiated.
How was information between the participants exchanged?
As exchanging information between all participants required secure connections, the anti-fraud information system (AFIS), in particular the virtual operational coordination unit (V-OCU), developed and deployed by the European Commission (OLAF), was used for this operation.
What is the Permanent Operational Coordination Unit (POCU)?
In order to provide logistical support to the Member States and to operate as cost- efficiently as possible, OLAF created a Permanent Operational Coordination Unit (POCU) in its premises in Brussels. The POCU is maintained and equipped by OLAF in order to host the liaison officers, to coordinate the JCO to the fullest extent possible and to maintain direct contacts with the national contact points (NCPs).
What is the role of the liaison officers (LOs) in the POCU?
During the operational phase of Matthew II twelve liaison officers (LOs) represented 24 EU Member States and also five third countries in the POCU. Two Europol LOs also supported the POCU team.
What are national contact points and what is their role?
In every participating country a national contact point (NCP) was appointed. The national contact points were responsible for the flow of information, processing requests for information in a timely manner, introducing selected containers in the V-OCU, organising checks and controls on selected containers, checking data against national information systems, collecting information extracted from national information systems and entering details in the V-OCU that were related to seizures which were detected during the operation.
What categories of goods were seized?
What happened to the goods seized?
The national authorities dealt with the seized goods in line with their national legislation. On the basis of a definitive judgement qualifying the goods retained as illegally smuggled or counterfeited they were in principle destroyed (especially cigarettes, alcohol and drugs). The handling of other seized goods depended on their nature.
What sanctions/fines will the companies and individuals caught face?
The natural and physical persons involved in the trafficking of the goods are the main targets of this kind of operations. Without prejudice to the retention or the seizure of the counterfeit or smuggled goods detected, the sanctions are fixed on the basis of the respective national legislation.
The provisional results of this operation targeting smuggled goods from Eastern European countries identified in some cases of seized cigarettes, drugs and counterfeits a clear link with organised crime.
What amount of duties can be recovered thanks to Matthew II?
The joint operation has prevented losses occurring to public budgets; therefore no recoveries have to be made. Referring to the seizures of smuggled cigarettes alone(2), this operation prevented potential losses to the budgets of the European Union and its Member States (customs duties and taxes) of approximately more than EUR 8 millions.
What was the role of Europol and WCO/RILO WE?
Europol participated as observers in this operation. The names of individuals and companies appearing in the operation were cross-checked against Europol systems.
Representatives of Europol were present in the POCU during the operational phase of the operation. Via a secure internet connection it was possible to make direct crosschecks of individuals and companies.
The WCO/RILO WE supported JCO Matthew II by analytical activity. The results of the operation have confirmed the conclusions (main routes, most used sorts of vehicles for smuggling etc.) of the analysis made by the WCO/RILO WE at the request of the Czech Customs Administration, before JCO Matthew II took place.
() 41 millions seized cigarettes (16 millions cigarettes smuggled by road transport + 25 millions cigarettes smuggled by sea vessel)