Something to Declare German Customs Seize Record Amounts of Pirated Goods

The German customs service seized record amounts of pirated goods in 2006. Drug seizures were up too, although fewer smuggled cigarettes were uncovered.

Want to buy a pair of counterfeit Nikes or a fake Rolex in Germany? You might have to look a bit harder than usual this year -- German customs officials have announced they seized record amounts of pirated goods in 2006.

German customs seized pirated goods to the value of €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2006 -- more than five times the 2005 total of €213.4 million.

Product piracy was "not a trivial offence but real criminality," German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück said Tuesday, speaking at Munich airport at the annual press conference of the customs service. Piracy "damages the economy and is abhorrent," he said, adding that it puts an estimated 70,000 jobs in Germany in danger and causes losses of around €25 billion each year for German companies.

According to customs officials, a third of pirated products come from China, with a further 20 percent from Thailand, Malaysia and other east Asian countries. Hamburg harbor, which is Germany's biggest port, is the main entry point in Germany for counterfeit goods. The largest single incident was at Hamburg harbor in the fall of 2006, where 117 containers full of counterfeit shoes, clothes and watches to the value of over €380 million were found.

The scale of the problem is illustrated by a spectacular case of piracy discovered in November 2005 in the Dutch city of Venlo. Customers officers found a complete counterfeit Nike store in a warehouse, complete with exact copies of shelves, counters, changing rooms and even the swinging doors typical of Nike stores. The intention was clearly to open a complete replica store selling counterfeit wares, customs officers said.

Steinbrück said that stricter checks on consumers in Germany would not solve the problem. "I would not be able to walk through downtown Munich or Nuremberg and check the soles of everyone's sneakers," he said.

Drug seizures were also on the up last year, with 3.2 metric tons of hashish seized, up from 1.6 tons in 2005. The amount of cocaine found also increased from 896 kilograms in 2005 to 1.5 tons in 2006. Seizures of heroin also were up, increasing from 456 kilograms seized in 2005 to 529 in 2006, but the amount of amphetamines nabbed stayed relatively stable at 263 kilograms seized in 2006, compared to 269 kilograms the previous year. However seizures of smuggled cigarettes decreased in 2006, going down to 415 million from 735 million in 2005.

Seizures of smuggled endangered plants and animals also saw an increase in 2006, from 39,000 items seized in 2005 to 53,000 in 2006. These included both live specimens and species made into handbags, belts, shoes, medicines or musical instruments. Experts say that the smuggling of endangered species  is a growing problem.

Steinbrück thanked the 40,000 employees of the customs service "with a certain pride and massive respect." The customs service are responsible for half of Germany's tax income, contributing around €104 billion in taxes per year from customs and excise duties.


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