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Record number of customs offences – the Internet increasingly important in terms of crime

Publication date 11.3.2014 9.00
Press release

In 2013, Finnish Customs registered altogether 10 724 offences (9 425 offences in 2012).  The number is the highest of all time.Customs offences have increased steadily over the past six years, particularly in the case of narcotics and medicine offences.For example, the number of narcotics offences has more than doubled in two years.

The impact of customs crime prevention on society amounted to more than 31 million euros last year. Most of the sum, 24.9 million euros, consisted of recovered proceeds of crime. The amount of evaded taxes was 5.23 million euros (10.8 million euros in 2012).

Increase in narcotics offences, doping offences and tax frauds

In 2013, Finnish Customs registered altogether 557 tax frauds (529 tax frauds in 2012). There were 51 aggravated tax frauds in 2013, whereas in 2012 there were 106 such offences.

The number of doping offences has remained relatively steady in recent years. However, the number of these offences increased by almost a hundred cases in 2013, reaching 339 offences. There were 240 doping offences in 2012. There were 44 aggravated doping offences, whereas in 2012 there were only 11 such offences. The Internet has become more and more significant especially in the acquisition of illicit doping and medicinal substances.

Customs seized 78 798 tablets and ampoules of various doping substances, which is over 36 000 less than in the record year 2012, when the customs authorities seized 115 344 tablets and ampoules. New phenomena that emerged in connection with doping offences were the online orders of raw materials and the resale of doping substances manufactured from these materials in primitive conditions in Finland.

In 2013, Finnish Customs registered altogether 3 232 narcotics offences (2 509 offences in 2012). Of these cases, 195 were aggravated offences (222 in 2012). The most significant increase was in standard narcotics offences, which is explained by the rise in the online orders of narcotics. The possibility of making online orders anonymously as well as fast delivery channels make it easier to acquire conventional narcotics as well as designer drugs. Designer drugs are sent to Finland either by mail or through courier firms. Ever more often, online payments are made using Bitcoin or other similar digital currencies.

Designer drugs, of which there is a great variety, are a growing problem. New substances enter and old ones exit the market continuously. The situation is difficult in terms of legislation and obstructs Customs’ work, because various substances are not classified as narcotics despite their narcotic effects. Some substances are not even classified as medicines.

Finnish Customs seized altogether 5 068 kg of narcotics in 2013 (3 374 kg in 2012). The increase in the quantity is due to seizures of khat. Customs authorities seized a total of
4 767 kilogrammes of khat in 2013 (2 945 kg in 2012). The quantity of hashish seized in 2013 was 96 kg, less than in 2012 when the quantity reached 280 kg. A total quantity of 165.9 kg of marijuana was seized, about 50 kg more than in 2012 (113.7 kg). The amount of seized amphetamine was 5.8 kg, which marks a distinct drop from the previous year’s 23 kg.

The seized quantity of amphetamine was 20 757 tablets. The quantity is more than fourfold compared to 2012, when it was 4 563 tablets. Customs seized 37 382 tablets or ampoules of narcotic medicines in 2013. The quantity was 29 482 tablets or ampoules in 2012. The share of Subutex was almost 50 per cent of the narcotic medicines.

Of the perpetrators of narcotics offences, about 30 per cent were foreign citizens in 2013.

Narcotics are imported to Finland mainly from the Baltic countries and Western Europe, but also from Russia. A significant portion of narcotics is smuggled to Finland either in sea traffic through the harbours of Helsinki or in air traffic through Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Finland is also a transit country for smuggling. Narcotics are exported via Finland to Russia and Western Europe, especially to the other Nordic countries.

The import of major smuggling consignments is largely controlled by foreign criminal groups conducting professional operations. Couriers are often professional smugglers arriving especially from the Baltic countries and from Southern and Central Europe. Small consignments arrive either by mail or are imported by passengers who arrive in Finland. The role of international customs cooperation has become increasingly important in the preliminary investigation of major criminal cases.

High number of medicine offences

The number of medicine offences has continued to rise steadily in recent years. Customs registered 1 524 medicine offences in 2013. The 2012 number was 1 543. Customs seized about 223 000 various medicinal tablets or ampoules in 2013 (ca. 242 000 tablets/ampoules in 2012). Medicines are often sent from Asia to Finland despite buyers thinking that the online pharmacies they do business with are located in the EU. Previously, a considerable portion of medicines detained by Customs were male enhancement drugs. Nowadays, also other types of medicines are imported illegally to Finland in increasing amounts.

The impact of economic crime prevention amounted to 22.39 million euros

During 2013, Customs investigated altogether 259 offences classified as economic crimes.  The crimes were mainly tax frauds and industrial property rights offences. By contrast, there were fewer tax frauds than in 2012; altogether 51 tax frauds were investigated in 2013 compared to 106 tax frauds in 2012. Furthermore, last year Customs investigated 67 counterfeiting offences (63 offences in 2012).

Economic crime pertaining to electronic trade and the traffic of internal trade are among the new phenomena adding to the challenges faced by economic crime investigators. The Internet is used in marketing and in selling highly taxable products to consumers, and in the evasion of the tax regulations imposed on these products. On the other hand, cases investigated by Customs as tax frauds and customs clearance offences related to business activity have concerned, for example, goods which have not been cleared for export at Customs, and incorrect goods descriptions and commodity codes.

Customs uncovered 40 intellectual property offences, i.e. industrial property rights offences, trademark violations, copyright offences and copyright violations. The 2012 total was 50 offences. The majority of the offences (28) were industrial property rights offences.

As for counterfeit products, the value of goods taken into possession by Customs was 5.3 million euros (6.4 million euros in 2012). In 2013, the value of property recovered by the economic crime investigators of Customs was 1.88 million euros (1.55 million euros in 2012). The amount of losses due to economic offences investigated or under investigation was 17.03 million euros (22 million in 2012).

Illegal import of excisable products has continued

Customs seized 3.8 million cigarettes in connection with criminal investigations in 2013. The quantity is considerably smaller than in 2012, when two large seizures of cigarettes raised the number to altogether 28 million cigarettes. For the most part, cigarettes are transported to Finland in small consignments mainly from Russia, which shows in the seized quantities. Customs uncovered 373 tobacco product violations. There were 350 violations in 2012. Finland is also a transit country for cigarettes being smuggled to the other Nordic countries and Central Europe.

Customs seized 673 kg of snus, which amounts to about 22 400 boxes. Snus has been imported from passenger ships in traffic between Finland and Sweden, and by car from Sweden and Russia. A phenomenon involving snus in Finland is its sale in kiosks and other retail shops. Customs conducts criminal investigations of such cases all the time. In one case, a kiosk owner was sentenced to unconditional imprisonment for two and a half years, and was ordered to pay damages of more than 900 000 euros.

In 2013, altogether 11 136 litres of alcohol was seized. The overall quantity exceeded the 2012 figure by 5 450 litres. Customs paid close attention to transports of alcohol in internal traffic. A total of 40 546 litres of alcohol was seized in customs controls (39 092 litres in 2012). The share imported by passengers was 39 276 litres (27 830 litres in 2012) and the share of cargo was 1 270 litres (11 262 litres in 2012). Customs uncovered altogether 1 014 alcohol offences (892 offences in 2012). There were six aggravated alcohol offences.

Crime involving weapons and other dangerous objects

Illegal import and other unlawful activity relating to firearms has been one of the areas of focus for the law enforcement authorities in the EU, including the Finnish authorities. Customs uncovered 65 firearms offences and seized 228 firearms (536 firearms in 2012).

Other kinds of dangerous objects that are also sold online may be subject to import restrictions and prohibitions as well. In 2013, there were altogether 63 cases registered as violations of regulations on dangerous objects. In these cases, Customs detained altogether 101 dangerous objects such as throwing axes, tasers, knives and brass knuckles from passengers and from postal consignments addressed to private persons.

Further information:       

Esko Hirvonen, Director of Investigation, tel. +358 (0) 40 332 2296
Mr Hannu Sinkkonen, Head of Investigation, tel. +358 (0) 40 332 4389 (serious crime)
Mr Jarmo Orola, Head of Investigation, tel. +358 (0) 40 332 6103 (criminal intelligence)
Mr Petri Lounatmaa, Head of Investigation, tel. +358 (0) 40 332 2149 (economic crime)

Media release