Case 5 Customs Duty
Case 5 Customs Duty
A terminal operator member received two container loads said to contain cigarettes, to be loaded on one of his customer's ships, Because of the sensitive nature of the cargo, the containers were allocated to a special secure area, near the main office and then stowed door-to-door in the second tier, making access practically impossible. The usual information about the containers was passed to the ship's agent who, in the normal course of events, would call them for shipment once he had received all the required documentation. On this occasion no documents were received from the shipper, so the containers were not loaded on the original intended ship. A further two ships from the same line called, but the containers remained on the terminal. Eventually the customs service became suspicious and examined both containers: they proved to be completely empty. The member was faced with a substantial liability to the customs for the duty and tax on the missing goods, and called in the Club to assist. Investigations showed that the cigarettes had been loaded from a bonded warehouse under customs supervision, and that the original customs seals were intact. There had been no routine weighing of the containers when they arrived on the terminal, so it was impossible to prove that the containers had been empty at that stage. However, customs investigators traced the haulage company concerned and examined the tachograph discs. They showed an unexplained deviation from the route and a fifty-minute stop. The customs therefore gave the member the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the cigarettes had been removed from the containers at that point, to be sold by the criminals on the domestic market. The duty and tax charge was waived, but the member was required to pay a penalty to customs for failure to keep proper records. It was no surprise to anyone that the "shipper" made no claim for the apparent loss of his cargo.
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Those involved in international carriage should be well aware that the law applicable to a contract and the jurisdiction in which disputes are to be decided often have a significant bearing on the outcome of a case. This is so for both the substantive determination of liability or remedy, as well as procedural matters, such as commencement of proceedings, disclosure, timelines and costs. A recent UK Supreme Court is exemplary.