Finance Minister Brunner: "Customs offices protect the economy and citizens at the gateway to the rest of the world"
Annual figures for 2021 for the team monitoring travel at Vienna International Airport: almost 3000 detentions
The customs office does its job even when times are difficult, protecting Austria effectively from attempts at international smuggling. Customs officials monitoring travellers at Vienna International Airport recorded 37,840 inspections, 2946 of which led to detention in the past year. This resulted in 1466 seizures and, in 68 cases, notifications to the financial criminal authorities.
Travel and passenger volumes are still feeling the effects of the pandemic at Vienna International Airport too, says Finance Minister Magnus Brunner: "In 2021, there were round 10.3 million passengers – an increase in passenger volumes compared with 2020. However, we also saw smuggling attempts increase too. Our customs officials are working across Austria to combat smugglers, doing excellent work on a variety of levels – as the figures for travel at Austria's largest airport show. Here, our customs office protects the economy and citizens at the gateway to the rest of the world."
Top of the list for smuggling in suitcases: tobacco, gold and foodstuffs
Cigarettes and tobacco played a part in a good third of the detentions. Throughout 2021, Customs Authority Austria officials seized 815,846 cigarettes and 261 kilograms of tobacco in items of luggage, including as part of a suitcase inspection in early January: the customs bodies discovered the contents of luggage belonging to two passengers, who were travelling from Minsk to Vienna via Istanbul, comprised entirely cigarettes – 68,020 in total.
Customs officials struck gold – literally – with some detentions involving high-value items, similarly not intended for personal use: Illegally imported gold jewellery with a total value of around 1.5 million euros was seized in 298 instances. In just two cases at Vienna International Airport, 8 kg of gold jewellery was seized, which the travellers from Turkey were trying to import without paying duty. Furthermore, 21 inspections resulted in 78 luxury watches being found with a value of 871,289 euros.
"Protecting our business location is the main focus here. Another key aspect of the work done by our customs officials is protecting the health of people in Austria. Colleagues from the Customs Authority Austria are making an important contribution through their work, for example when they monitor import bans and limitations in accordance with animal health law," says Finance Minister Brunner, explaining one of the customs officials' area of responsibility. This is an area strongly represented at Vienna International Airport with 922 cases in the last year and, alongside cigarettes, gold and plants (908 detentions), is number one on the list of items smuggled in suitcases.
The fight against epizootic diseases: four tons of foods of animal origin seized
Despite the fact that imports of meat and meat products, milk and dairy products as well as other animal products are subject to certain limitations to prevent the introduction of epizootic diseases, customs officials were able to seize almost four tons of foods of animal origin. Milk and dairy products accounted for around two tons, meat and meat products for around 1.8 tons and the rest for fish, honey or other animal foods.
Even the animal kingdom's masters of disguise can't escape the scrutiny of customs officials
In species protection, one of the total 25 cases in this area is particularly memorable. One traveller from Tanzania attempted to import 74 species-protected chameleons illegally to Austria. However, the smuggled animals were not camouflaged well enough to get past our customs officials – luckily for the chameleons themselves. "The animals would have been worth approximately 37,000 euros on the Czech black market, for which the investigations determined they were destined. Thanks to the conscientious work of the customs officials, the chameleons could be transferred to care appropriate to the species. Our customs office has therefore contributed not only towards species protection, but also animal welfare. Greed for profit at the expense of living creatures – be that dogs or protected exotic species like chameleons – is a offence which we will resolutely continue to counter at all times," warns Finance Minister Brunner.
In addition to chameleons, seizures under the Species Protection Act included 2411 pharmaceutical products with species-protected ingredients (such as cobra or rhinoceros), 7.34 kg of caviar, 30 stony corals and five giant clams.
Illegal imports and exports of cash did not escape the keen eyes of customs officials either. In 2021, 26 detentions prevented a total of 682,165 euros – the majority of which going abroad from Austria – from being brought over the border undeclared. These discoveries resulted in penalties totalling 42,200 euros and seizures or enforcements of 137,768 euros.
Great success in mobile deployment of the east customs duty station
Alongside the team monitoring travel at Vienna International Airport, mobile inspection teams also form part of the east customs duty station, which are used independently of airport inspections. Over 344 deployments, they inspected 5371 vehicles and therefore 16,275 people and 39,165 pieces of luggage. For example, 2339 detentions resulted in the team seizing around 5 tons of plants or plant components, 3400 litres of illegally imported alcohol and undeclared cash totalling 62,633 euros.
A total of 52 dogs that smugglers attempted to bring across the Austrian border did not elude the customs officials during their mobile inspections any more than around nine tons of animal products seized in 2021, which also included an entire grilled pig on a spit. The amount seized under animal health law within the remit of the east customs duty station alone amounts to around 13 tons.
Furthermore, the teams monitoring travel and mobile inspections were able to confiscate narcotics in 188 cases: In total, smugglers tried to import into Austria 40 kg, more than 1 litre and 1714 drugs, such as cannabis, opioids and party drugs like MDMA – from a body packer with 100 grams of crystal meth from Istanbul at Vienna International Airport to postal packages with doping substances or cannabis.
In three detentions, customs officials on mobile deployment found 872 litres of oil, which smugglers were intending to smuggle into Austria or use illegally, 600 litres of which were in an additional tank of an Albanian coach. The rest concerned improper use of heating oil as passenger car fuel.
"With the examples, we can see how flexible people with criminal intent are in attempting to bring their smuggled goods over Austria's borders. As customs administration, we must be just as flexible to prevent these practices. The mobile inspections make a significant and effective contribution here. The annual figures for 2021 from the east customs duty station show how the motivation, skill and professionalism of our customs officials ensure that our honest entrepreneurs, society and country are protected against harm," underlines Finance Minister Brunner, highlighting the importance of the diverse activities undertaken by the Customs Authority Austria.
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