Notable customs seizures in the first half of 2022: Among these ivory, parrots and luxury watches
Customs work under the influence of the Russian attack on the Ukraine and the new eCommerce Regulation

In the first half of 2022, the Austrian Customs Office (Zollamt Österreich - ZAÖ) succeeded in numerous seizures and findings. The half-year result reflects the entry into force of the new eCommerce Regulation on 1 July 2021, as well as the changed pandemic situation and the Russian attack on the Ukraine.

Finance Minister Magnus Brunner: “The half-year result impressively shows the results of the professional work of our Customs officers. Customs thereby protects the domestic economy, ensures compliance with our laws and makes an important contribution to consumer health and species protection.”

In the seizures, more than 60 pieces of jewellery and art made of ivory stand out in particular, which the Customs officers became aware of during internet searches on an online sales platform. As a result, Customs investigators from the Linz Customs office seized more than 3 kg of ivory at the vendor's home in the District Vöcklabruck.

The Carinthian Customs investigation prevented the illegal sale of four rare parrots in the first half of the year. The two pairs of macaws were offered for sale on an online bird exchange. The birds are protected under the Washington Convention on the Protection of Species and may only be traded with appropriate papers.

At Salzburg Airport, four Turkish citizens entered Austria from Istanbul and were already about to pass through the green channel of the airport after their arrival when they were asked to go to the Customs office for a check. The Customs officers managed a brilliant seizure thereby: 15 luxury watches, a dial, 5 watch straps and 6 guarantee cards with an estimated value of more than EUR 500 000 Euro were seized.

Illegal Drugs: More seizures, lower quantity

In the first half of 2022, the Austrian Customs Office (ZAÖ) has already recorded significantly more seizures of illegal drugs compared to the whole of 2021. In a total of
5 864 cases, the Austrian Customs officers found 39 702 prohibited imports of medicinal products, while in the first half of 2021 there were 3 419 seizures of 151 200 items. The numerous seizures of the horse dewormer Ivermectin in the previous year have also decreased significantly this year. The number of reports due to illegal drug trade has increased from around 2 000 in the 1st half of 2021 to about 6 000 in the 1st half of 2022. The Head of the ZAÖ, Ms. Heike Fetka-Blüthner, comments on this development: "eCommerce plays a role here, as well as the great commitment of our Customs officers. The tripling in the number of reports can be attributed on the one hand to the increase in clearances due to the eCommerce Regulation and thereby increasing controls, and on the other hand that changes in the process for eCommerce clearances are taking effect and all seizures of illegal imports of medicinal products are reported to the competent authority.”

More clearances and findings in freight traffic

The declarations of goods traffic at Austrian Customs increased by around 30 % in the first half of the year compared to the same period of the previous year. The findings have also increased by almost 49 % compared to the first six months of 2021. This mainly relates to the number of reports filed, mainly due to illegal imports of medicinal products, but also to findings in connection with waste shipments and missing goods transport permits. The general increase in clearances can be explained by the eCommerce Regulation that came into force on 1 July 2021. Since then, even small consignments have had to be taxed from the first cent and thus cleared by Customs.

Finance Minister Magnus Brunner: “Of course, this regulation means an increase of the workload for our Customs officers. As we can see, this regulation is paying off, because through it and the great commitment of our employees in its implementation, we are ensuring fair competition, more tax justice and at the same time strengthen our Austrian trade.”

Increased travel occurrence after the pandemic

Another factor that clearly shapes the work of Customs in this half-year results for 2022 is the new phase of the corona pandemic. While there were numerous travel restrictions in previous years, a significant increase in travel activity can now be observed again. With around 8.3 million travellers from January to June 2022 compared to around 5.5 million in the first half of 2021, an increase of around 52 % exists in a half-year comparison.

Decrease in narcotics smuggling

While there were 1 491 reports of narcotics from January to June 2021, 763 reports and almost 148 kg of narcotics were secured in the same period this year. This development depends on the one hand on the obligation to declare and the increased pressure to control even small consignments in the 2nd half of 2021. On the other hand, however, the good cooperation with the security authorities resulted in that investigation successes could also be achieved internationally and supply chains could be interrupted.

A similar phenomenon can be found in the area of product piracy. Not only the number of seizures and the value of the original goods are declining. Thanks to effective Customs controls, illegal trade may have lost its attractiveness: It can be observed that conspicuous senders are withdrawing from importing counterfeit products to Austria.

Ms Fetka-Blüthner: “Smuggling doesn't stop, but it shifts. The routes change, or also the way or what is smuggled or how illegal trade is carried out. Our dedicated employees know this and adapt their controls correspondingly. Thanks to this commitment and their high level of professionalism, we are staying on top of anti-smuggling.”

Customs work in the context of the Russian attack on the Ukraine

As a result of the war in Ukraine, it can be observed that risky flights from the conflict regions or other destinations are cancelled. On the other hand, it can be assumed that the transport routes will shift as a result of the acts of war, or that the frequencies and quantities that are usually transported via these routes will change.

The consequences of the war are particularly evident in the tobacco seizure result of the Austrian Customs. If the number of cases of 1 066 tobacco goods seizures is higher than that of the first half of 2021 (780 seizures), the number of cigarettes illegally brought to Austria is significantly lower than that of the comparable period - 418 143 units so far in 2022, while by the end of June 2021 it was already almost twice as many (818 377).