Graz woman fined after half a million fermented plums smuggled into Austria
Austrian customs officials have been working on a somewhat unusual case recently. Between 2016 and 2018, an international Chinese gang smuggled over 465,000 fermented plums from Shanghai to Austria via London. Their main customer, an ethnic Chinese woman from Graz, then sold the bulk of the plums on via her website. On 10 February, she was provisionally convicted of tax evasion at Graz Regional Court, and ordered to pay hefty fines. Commenting on the case, Austrian Minister of Finance Magnus Brunner noted that:
"In this case, the defendant evaded around 100,000 euros of taxes and duties. The court ruling has imposed a fine amounting to over 400,000 euros. This is another example of the ability of Austria's customs authorities to conduct international investigations in order to protect honest businesspeople and consumers alike."
Offender triggered the investigation herself
Strangely, the offender herself was the one who triggered the initial investigation, when she reported a competitor who was buying the plums directly from the Chinese gang, rather than using her business as an intermediary. In making her complaint, the defendant revealed a great deal of inside knowledge of the gang's international activities, This immediately aroused the suspicions of customs officers, who initiated an investigation. This investigation went on to establish that the woman had for years been using the very same illegal distribution network she was now accusing her competitor of exploiting.
The gang had developed an ingenious method of smuggling the goods. The plums would first be flown from Shanghai to London Heathrow, where they would be picked up by the group's accomplices and falsely declared to UK customs officials as "low-value clothing." This false declaration meant the consignment was not subjected to UK customs duty. Once the plums cleared customs, they were handed to an express courier service, which transported them to Austria duty-free as if they were EU products. The plums were then picked up by the Graz-based entrepreneur, who was the main customer for the shipment. She proceeded to sell the fruit on to other businesses and end consumers, despite being well aware that the goods had evaded Austrian tax and customs.