Smuggling via Vienna Airport: apprehensions increase in 2022 More than 4,000 apprehended customs – top cigarettes, groceries, jewellery – around 45,000 passenger checks at Austria’s gateway to the world

The 81 customs officers in tourist traffic at Vienna Airport carried out 45,000 customs controls in 2022 and recorded more than 4,000 seizures. Cigarettes, groceries and jewellery were again the top smuggled goods confiscated.

In 2022, after the years of the corona pandemic, operations at Vienna Airport will largely return to normal. Compared to the pre-crisis level (2019 Vienna Airport had around 31.5 million passengers) recorded a slightly lower number of arrivals and departures, but with around 23.6 million travellers in 2022, the number of passengers has more than doubled compared to 2021 (around 10.3 million). This is also reflected in the number of seizures: In 2021 there were around 3,000 seizures with around 38,000 checks.

Austrian Finance Minister Magnus Brunner commented: “Last year's customs balance sheet at Vienna Airport shows a clear trend. Once again, the number of smuggling attacks at Austria's largest airport has increased significantly. This was observed in 2021 and intensified in 2022. However, our customs officers use their experience, risk analyses and technical and animal support to carry out targeted and extremely successful checks, as the results of the past year show. The work is extremely important for the protection of the Austrian economy and population. I would like to thank our customs officers for their professional and dedicated work," said Finance Minister Magnus Brunner.

Vienna Airport Board Member Günther Ofner adds: “Vienna Airport is on the up again, the number of passengers is steadily increasing. The high level of professionalism and service orientation of the Austrian customs authorities is all the more important to us, and I would like to thank all customs officers at the location for their great commitment.”

Particularly common in luggage: groceries, cigarettes or jewellery

In 2022, the most common illegal “holiday souvenirs” in the suitcases of people travelling through or entering Vienna were food of animal origin or plants, the import of which does not comply with animal health or plant protection regulations, with a total weight of more than 14 tons.

In addition, the four customs teams working at Vienna Airport were able to confiscate almost 500,000 cigarettes in 2022. Interesting: In the previous year, which was still dominated by the Corona virus, there were even 815,846 cigarettes that were to be imported at Vienna Airport contrary to the applicable regulations. So there was a decline here, which the customs experts attribute primarily to changed smuggling routes.

The seizures in which the Austrian customs officers discovered jewellery and luxury watches with a total value of around 3 million euros in the luggage of passengers were spectacular and brilliant in the truest sense of the word. A 43-year-old traveller from Istanbul, who tried to import a suitcase in February 2022 – filled with 18 kg of gold jewellery worth almost 700,000 euros, is particularly memorable.

From medicines to snake wine

The illegal import of medicines also plays a role at the airport: For example, in January 2022, a 28-year-old traveller who was coming from the USA via Madrid was stopped. The traveller was trying to import more than 10,000 doping-like preparations into Austria. Other drug seizures at the airport are related to species protection, as they contain components of species-protected animals or plants, such as snakes, seahorses, orchids, saiga antelopes or tigers. More than a kilogram of caviar, 16 hard corals, 29 porcupine quills, 5 bottles of snake wine or 2 "hunting trophies" in the form of giant wild sheep horns - a protected species - were also discovered by the targeted controls at the airport.

Freight controls, among other things, in the name of product safety

In 2022, 55,360 goods exports and 92,331 goods imports were processed in freight traffic at Vienna Airport. Here, too, it can be seen that there was a normalisation in the past year compared to the corona year 2020. The number of goods exports in 2020 was only 44,669 and the number of goods imports was only 84,445.

In the course of the control activities of the teams, around 3 tons of medicinal products were seized in freight shipments - the majority of them: 45,000 packs of sexual enhancers that were actually intended for a stopover in Vienna and for shipment to Greece.

In another large consignment, in 30 boxes from Israel, the customs officers found 345 kg of khat – instead of “matcha tea leaves” as stated – which was seized and handed over to the police. In total, around 430 kg of narcotics in cargo shipments were withdrawn from circulation in 2022.

Controlling freight shipments also plays a major role in protecting the public and in product safety: Because the control within the framework of trademark protection is not only about product piracy in the sense of illegal plagiarism and thus the violation of trademark rights, but also about the lack of product safety standards of the imported goods. For example, 545 e-scooters, 500 stuffed animals, 40,500 dental splints, 450 kg of disinfectant, 100 kg of COVID antigen tests or more than 6,000 electrical devices with missing or incorrect CE marking were seized by Austrian customs in freight shipments last year.

Cocaine in the suitcase: Great successes in the seizures of narcotics by the travel and mobile control teams

In a total of 134 cases, the controls by the teams from the Eastern sub-department – either in the 326 mobile operations or as part of the airport controls – led to the seizure of narcotic drugs. In 2022, that was a little more than 37.5 kg of different drugs and 659 narcotics in tablet form. Top smuggled illegal substances: Cannabis in various aggregate forms such as 16 kg herbal cannabis, which the customs teams became aware of in April 2022 in the Lost and Found warehouse of an airline of all places. Since the suitcase no longer had a luggage tag, it had to be opened. The customs team on duty discovered the cannabis, which was subsequently seized. Even 2.5 kg of cocaine, which a 27-year-old from Colombia wanted to import to Austria via Peru, Brazil and Doha, hidden in the metal frame of his suitcase, in order to bring it to the Vienna market, did not escape the attentive controls of the experienced customs officers.

In addition, the successes of the mobile control teams are also impressive. They checked 4,437 vehicles, 14,342 people and 34,754 pieces of luggage in 2022. With a total of almost 12 tons again, the seizures under the animal disease and plant protection law are particularly important. The customs officials found 466 kg of animal-based foodstuffs on a small Turkish truck alone, which should not have been imported into the EU.

A total of 261 customs officers are employed in the East area, and 6 service dogs are also regularly deployed.

2023: So far, the number of passengers and arrests has continued to rise

For the current year so far it has been shown that things are going up: In the period from January to April 2023, the number of passengers (+ 64%), the number of controls (+ 43%) and the number of arrests (+ 50%) increased compared to the same period in the previous year. However, it should be remembered that the first few months of 2022 in particular were still marked by corona-related restrictions.

In terms of goods seized, gold jewellery will continue to play a role in 2023. A major discovery has already been made this year with regard to the illegal import of live animals: 11 puppies and 14 kittens were picked up by the attentive customs officers in March. Species protection is also another key issue: Among other things, travellers at Vienna Airport tried to introduce part of a giraffe bone or 49 dried seahorses hidden in socks. In the Lost and Found area of the airport, Customs teams found a suitcase containing 28 kilograms of fresh khat, which was seized.