Brussels, 1 October 2010
Union for the Mediterranean joint customs operation “Sirocco”
What is a “joint customs operation”?
Joint customs operations are carried out with the aim of specifically targeting smuggling and fraud in certain risky areas and/or on identified trade routes. Joint Customs Operations help to improve the practical cooperation in customs between the countries involved in tackling smuggling and fraud. They also help to develop a greater insight into where the risks lie on specific trade routes. Joint Customs Operations not only safeguard the EU's financial interests, but also protect the citizens and legitimate businesses by intercepting illegal products trying to enter the EU.
In the case of Operation Sirocco, the aim was to identify shipments suspected of containing counterfeit or smuggled genuine cigarettes and other counterfeit and illegal goods. It focused on deep sea containers loaded in China or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and destined for ports in Union for the Mediterranean countries.
What is the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)?
Trade relations between the EU and the neighbouring Mediterranean countries have been governed by the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (also know as Barcelona Process) since November 1995. The Union for the Mediterranean partnership now includes all 27 member states (MS) of the European Union, along with 16 partners across the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. These are Albania, Algeria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Palestinian Authority, Mauritania, Montenegro, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
Who decided to organise Sirocco?
–In November 2008, the European Commission (European Antifraud Office - OLAF), the French Presidency of the EU Council and Morocco, organized the first conference on "Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership" in Tangiers (Morocco). At this conference, the participants identified the need to react quickly and to counter smuggling or fraud activities. Indeed, counterfeit and contraband have a negative effect on trade; it can lead to financial losses and constitute a threat to public health or safety.
–In October 2009, delegations from 27 EU Members States and 16 non-EU partners across the Mediterranean, as well as representatives from Interpol, Europol and Eurojust, were invited, to attend a second conference in Istanbul (Turkey). This conference underlined the importance of strengthening mutual administrative assistance and operational customs co-operation of the partner countries involved in the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
Following both conferences, the participants decided to launch a Joint Customs Operation (JCO) in the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean which the European Commission (OLAF and DG TAXUD) volunteered to organize with the support of the World Customs Organization (WCO), EUROPOL and INTERPOL.
All 27 EU Member States and 11 Non-EU partner countries (Albania, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Montenegro, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey) participated in the operation.
Who were the main actors involved in the operation?
The European Anti-Fraud office (OLAF) provided logistical and technical support throughout the operation. It coordinated the operation from the Permanent Operational Coordination Unit (POCU) based in Brussels, to allow direct contacts to be maintained with the national contact points. It also hosted the liaison officers that represented all the EU Member States during the operation.
What was the role of Interpol and Europol?
Interpol and Europol participated as observers in this operation in the framework of the protection of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The names of individuals and companies appearing in the operation were cross-checked against Europol systems and the Interpol databases. A representative of Europol was present in the POCU during the operational phase of a joint customs operation. Via a secured internet connection it was possible to make direct crosschecks of individuals and companies.
What categories of goods were seized?
Cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco
Wine and spirits (vodka and whisky)
Sports shoes, shoes
T-Shirts, underwear, short, sweaters, jeans, waistcoat, socks, trousers, coats, jumpers, men's jackets, garments
TV Colours LCD, recording device and digital video camera, chargers, batteries, LCD Screens, Home Cinema Kits, Electric Toy Cars
Aluminium wheel, toys, liquid ink pens, watches, belts, wallets, hair rings, balloons, playing cards, bags, logos, perfume bottles, caps, cups, stationary,
What happened to the goods that were seized?
The national authorities deal with the detained goods in line with EU Council Regulation (EC) No. 1383/2003. Once the right holder initiated a proceeding according to national legislation, the national court will pass a judgement confirming the products counterfeit or not. Such judgement also decides what is done with the goods. They are usually destroyed. Some products are burned (cigarettes) and other products (e.g. sport shoes) can be recycled (e.g. in synthetic football fields).
In some cases where the owner of the goods and the right holder agree, the goods can be abandoned for destruction in a simplified procedure, saving cost and time for the right holder and the administrations.
Smuggled cigarettes are seized and destroyed on the basis of the Community Customs Code (Council Regulation (EC) No. 2913/92) by the Customs authorities.
What sanctions/fines will the companies and individuals who are caught face?
Penalties for smugglers and traffickers are fixed at national level, and would depend on the Member State in which the suspect was caught.
Did Sirocco help to prevent any losses to the EU and Member States' budgets?
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 8 million.