Last week (23 February 2022), the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Rome led an operation where the Customs Office of Rome (Agenzia delle Accise, Dogane e Monopoli, ADM) seized almost €350 000 in cash from an Italian company that imported non-compliant surgical masks from China and supposedly evaded customs duties and VAT.
The surgical masks were imported from China through the special procedure of 'direct release'. This procedure qualifies for the exemption of import duties and VAT on personal protective equipment if they are delivered directly, and without any commercial mark-up, to public health facilities engaged in the fight against the pandemic.
However, the ADM found out that of the over 5,5 million imported masks, only 60% were actually foreseen for public health facilities, and the other 40% were for private entities, which are excluded from duty-free imports.
In addition, technical expertise revealed that the surgical masks were non-compliant with safety regulations and wrongly marked with the European conformity label “CE”, putting all users of the masks and their patients at risk. The masks have been seized on the administrative level as soon as the results of the expertise came out.