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Romania: Customs official indicted for tax fraud scheme involving imported tobacco

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On 29 May 2023, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) referred a criminal case to the Iași Tribunal Court, in Romania, where a customs official has been indicted for participating in a tax fraud scheme involving imported tobacco.

The charges against the defendant concern his suspected involvement in a fraud scheme orchestrated to evade the payment of taxes and custom duties on imported tobacco at the Siret Customs Office, the main customs point at the Romanian border with Ukraine.

According to the investigation, several individuals and companies from Czechia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine put in place a fraudulent customs circuit for the importation of processed tobacco (hookah and pipe tobacco) from the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

These tobacco products were ostensibly destined for third (non-EU) countries, such as Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and were therefore declared as being in transit via the EU, which allows for the suspension of the payment of taxes until the goods are acquired in the country of their final destination.

In reality, though, according to the evidence collected, the goods did not leave the EU area, and were instead sold illegally on the black market in some EU countries, including Belgium and Germany. This was allegedly done with the complicity of a Romanian customs officer at the Siret Customs Office, which is the main customs point at the Romanian border with Ukraine.

It is alleged that between June 2017 and January 2018, a total of 50 shipments of processed tobacco products were declared as being in transit through the EU – the majority originating in Italy (35). There were also shipments starting from Germany (eight), Lithuania (six) and Czechia (one). The investigators believe that the vehicles declared at the Siret Customs Office as transporters of tobacco were in reality empty, to simulate the transit to third countries and evade the payment of taxes and custom duties.

As a consequence, the goods were sold within EU countries at huge profits, while evading tax, excise and VAT collection. It is estimated that the scheme caused damages of over €650 000 in customs duties alone.

The defendant, who is in pre-trial detention, was the person responsible for inspecting shipments in transit during this period.

On 4 April 2023, searches had been carried out by the European Delegated Prosecutors of the EPPO’s Iași office, together with judicial police officers from the Support Structure of the European Prosecutors Delegated in Romania, judicial police officers from the Brigade for Fighting against Organized Crime (BCCO) Suceava, as well as by customs officers from the Romanian Customs Authority. On that date, the law enforcement agents also seized real estate (five properties) and cash in different currencies, including Euro, US dollars, Romanian Leu and Ukrainian Grivna, in order to recover the damages to the national and EU budgets. 

All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in the competent Romanian courts of law.