Record booze seizures by Swedish Customs

Record amounts of beer, wine and spirits bought over the internet from foreign distributors are being confiscated by customs officers in Sweden. During the first quarter of 2006, Swedish customs officers impounded 100,000 litres of alcohol, compared to 54,000 litres in the whole of 2005, according to figures released on Thursday by Swedish Customs.

Deliveries to thousands of customers were intercepted by customs in the first quarter, against 1,180 for the whole of 2005. On Tuesday customs officers in Sundsvall intercepted 17,000 litres of alcohol that had been bought online. Twenty-five crates of alcohol at e-logistics company Locadi were impounded – the largest seizure ever in Sweden.

“There has been a huge increase in seizures this year, if you compare with last year,” said Tony Magnusson at Swedish Customs’ anti-crime unit.

“Most of it probably comes in through Skåne, but we have also raided warehouses round the country,” he said.

According to Magnusson alcohol impounded in Sundsvall and Jönköping has been intended for recipients around the country. A raid in Jönköping at the beginning of April resulted the seizure of 140 crates containing 50,000 litres of alcohol.

“It is being ordered by private individuals or groups of people. You can of course ask whether it is really for private use or whether some of it goes to restaurants or is sold illegally,” he said.

One reason for the increase in seizures is that Swedish Customs has got a better idea of how the alcohol is transported. Spot checks have also been increased. But Magnusson is critical of the way the media is promoting Internet alcohol:

“We’re frequently seeing full-page articles in the papers about “how to find the cheapest booze,” where some expert or another says that it is legal, which we say is not true,” he said.

Locadi, meanwhile, has claimed that the raid in Sundsvall was illegal.

A number of people who have had their Internet alcohol impounded have grouped together in the Association for a Class Action for Private Imports in the EU. They have sued the Swedish state for compensation in Stockhol District Court.

Drivers of vehicles found with imported alcohol are arrested, but then released after questioning. The decision whether to press criminal charges against drivers is on hold until the EU Court makes its position clear in a case currently under consideration. The fate of the impounded alcohol also hangs on the court’s verdict.

In a preliminary judgment at the end of March, the Advocate General backed up the Swedish import ban.

TT/The Local