Customs officers conduct 173 000 successful operations and controls in first half of 2021
Blümel: "An impressive result thanks to huge commitment"
In the first half of 2021, the 1 500 Austrian customs officers engaged on the frontline conducted around 173 000 operations and controls, compared with 128 000 in the first half of 2020. According to Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, "In the first half of 2021, compared with the same period in the previous year, in the areas of goods transportation, Operational Customs Supervision, statutory audits by the customs administration and consumption taxes, in line with positive economic developments we achieved significantly higher totals. However, in terms of tourism, the first six months of 2021 again saw a significant decline, even though here, we have succeeded in achieving a significantly higher density of controls. As a result, despite the difficult circumstances, thanks to their huge commitment and a high degree of professionalism, our customs officers have achieved an impressive result in all areas of customs operations."
In the area of goods transportation alone, customs officials cleared around 2.9 million registration forms, thereby ensuring smooth supply chains. Compared with the first half of 2020, this represents an increase of 43 %, due both to Brexit and increases in e-commerce transactions.
From January to the end of June 2021, in the context of mobile controls, Operational Customs Supervision conducted 1 323 operations, leading to the identification of 5 270 offences or breaches. Compared with the first half of 2020, when controls could only take place to a limited extent against the background of the pandemic and the first lockdown, the density of controls increased by almost 71 %.
Last year, customs administration auditors conducted 652 audits, securing additional tax revenues of EUR 12.45 million. In the first half of this year, 360 audits have already taken place, yielding an additional EUR 7.78 in revenues.
Increase in consumption tax revenues
The wide range of duties assigned to the customs administration also includes verifying and ensuring the correct payment of consumption taxes. In total, revenues from various consumption taxes in the first half of 2021 totalled EUR 2.79 billion (as compared with the first half of 2020, which totalled EUR 2.72 billion). This amount consists of approximately EUR 1.66 billion from mineral oil tax, EUR 59.7 million from alcohol tax, EUR 84.8 million from beer tax and, additionally, revenues from tobacco tax.
In the first half of 2021, tobacco tax revenues totalled EUR 993.7 million, remaining high compared with the same period in the previous year, and representing a further increase of 5.6 % (1st half of 2020: EUR 941.4 million, 1st half of 2019: EUR 914.6 million). The latest high figure and the further percentage increase are due to circumstances associated with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic; as a result of temporary border closures and travel restrictions, there was a significant fall in the quantity of cigarettes both smuggled and illegally imported into Austria. According to Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, "Those who used to buy their cigarettes abroad before coronavirus reverted to their local tobacconist during the pandemic."
Significant fall in tourist traffic
Due to the measures implemented to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, tourist traffic fell substantially, and the significant impact on tourism and cross-border travel has continued into 2021. From January until June 2021, customs recorded a total of 5.46 million passengers at airports and external borders and processed 55 470 applications for VAT refunds. Compared with the same period in 2020, which saw 9.96 million travellers, this represents a reduction of 45 %. However, the customs administration succeeded in increasing control operations by 15 %, conducting 55 004 controls and identifying 1 628 offences or breaches.
Cash controls on travellers aimed at combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism
Controls aimed at monitoring cash transfers largely take place in the context of checks on travellers. Any traveller carrying EUR 10 000 or more in cash is required to make a customs declaration when entering or leaving the EU. According to Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, "Combating illegal cash movements is particularly important in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism." In the first half of 2021, customs officers identified EUR 596 741 in undeclared cash, and instituted 28 related fiscal offence prosecutions. During the same period in the previous year, the totals were EUR 283 966, with eight resulting sets of proceedings.
According to Finance Minister Blümel, "In addition to their tasks related to excise and customs, our customs officers are unwavering in their fight against cross-border crime, often committed on the assumption of being a trivial offence, at the expense of honest taxpayers. However, the evasion of tax and excise duties as well as smuggling are criminal offences, and will therefore be rigorously prosecuted and punished. Amid continuing difficult circumstances, in the first half of 2021 the Austrian customs administration has once more shown its steadfastness in protecting and supporting both the economy and Austrian citizens, as well as demonstrating its professionalism in ensuring the smooth processing of goods in transit."