Drugs, counterfeits and fraud: the toll of French customs on the rise

The number of counterfeit products seized in France soared by 62% in 2021, while 30% more medicines were confiscated and financial fraud increased by 179%, according to the new annual Customs (customs) report.

A total of 9.1 million counterfeit products were removed from the market last year, according to the report.

The report of the General Directorate of Customs and Indirect Duties (DGDDI) was presented on February 14 by the Minister of Public Accounts Olivier Dussopt.

He identified that counterfeit goods and financial fraud were among the sectors that saw a significant increase in customs investigations in 2021 compared to 2020.

The surge in counterfeits transported by “express and postal freight”, due to the rise of online shopping and “the explosion of [e-commerce] trade during the health crisis” has contributed to what the report calls “the phenomenon of counterfeiting”.

Counterfeiting now affects “all types of goods”, including “industrial products, toys and foodstuffs”, the report says.

He said that over the past year, Customs seized 1.73 million beauty products (such as makeup and perfume); 1.65 million games, toys and sporting goods; and 200,517 foods or beverages.

In February 2021, Mr. Dussopt had already presented a plan to combat the rise of counterfeiting. He called for:

  • Better cooperation with all players in the fight against counterfeiting, including e-commerce professionals and consumers

  • Strengthening the collection and processing of intelligence, in particular through the development of artificial intelligence;

  • More checks and a more intense investigation policy;

  • Prosecution of perpetrators in cases considered to be the most sensitive in terms of consumer protection.

In the report, the customs authorities said, “Counterfeiting is a threat to the health and safety of consumers, but also to the national economy.”

Other key statistics from the 2021 report include (all numbers up from 2020):

Drugs and tobacco

  • 115.4 tonnes of drugs seized (+30.10% since 2020)

  • This includes 18.62 tonnes of cocaine (up 105.5%); 74.86 tonnes of cannabis (+24.1%) and 466kg of heroin (+29.5%).

  • 18,284 cases of contraband tobacco seized, i.e. 402.1 tonnes

Financial fraud

  • €125.1 million in financial fraud identified or apprehended (+179%)

  • 330 cases of customs laundering (+52%)

  • €439.5m recovered (+44.2%)

Smuggling of firearms, animals and goods

  • 371 incidents including protected species

  • 8.82 million toys checked

  • 805 illegal firearms seized

The main customs dates of the past year

  • January: The United Kingdom becomes a “third country” of the EU, the borders of third countries are restored.

  • February: Olivier Dussopt’s anti-counterfeiting plan presented at Roissy

  • March: 25,000 archaeological pieces returned to Morocco. A ton of cocaine seized in the port of Rouen.

  • April: Amiens zoo seized 53 animal items, including furs, crocodile skulls and turtle shells. Three tons of cannabis resin seized in Avignon.

  • Can: Cultural treasures seized by customs are on display at the Louvre Museum. 46 kilos of amphetamines seized. Dismantling of a major “darknet” platform.

  • June: 347 kilos of cannabis seized. Over €973,000 of illegal banknotes seized.

  • July: New VAT rules come into force for e-commerce. Customs officers take part in the parade on the Champs Elysées on July 14 and in the Tokyo Olympics.

  • August: 956 kilos of cocaine seized. 50 liters of liquid amphetamine seized. 10,000 dangerous toys destroyed in Strasbourg.

  • September: 403 kilos of cannabis seized in Lyon. 4.2 tons of cannabis resin seized on a fishing boat in the southern Mediterranean.

  • October: 440 cartons of cigarettes seized. Customs is participating in the “Sustainability Week” effort.

  • November: 16,000 counterfeit phone and car parts seized at Toulouse airport. Three seizures of cannabis equivalent to 1.7 tons in less than 72 hours.

  • December: 12,500 non-compliant cosmetic products seized in Le Havre. 19,200 watches and jewelery containing lead seized in Aulnay-du-Bois. Illegal cigarette factory dismantled in Marne-la-Vallée.

The report also focused on Customs priorities over the past year and up to 2022.

These included:

  • Establish a strong ‘third country’ border with the EU

  • Manage the strong increase in online shopping (France is the second largest e-commerce market in the EU after Germany)

  • Continue the fight against the financing of terrorism, drugs, trafficking in endangered species and counterfeiting.

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