HomeShoppingCustoms spills the claret for Sliema shop in duty evasion

Customs spills the claret for Sliema shop in duty evasion

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A French wine merchant suffered a costly outlay for over 3,300 bottles of wine in his Sliema shop, when he failed to affix excise duty stamps on the bottles within five days of their issuance.

A court of magistrates threw out a request by the Baron Max establishment, who suffered the confiscation of 3,332 bottles of wine from his Sliema outlet, when a Customs official found them without their excise duty stamp.

The merchant was found to have over 7,600 duty stamps he had procured that had not yet been affixed to the bottles, which were also confiscated in the search, and had to pay €16,168 – or half their real value – to have them released from Customs. He was later refunded €2,000 for 414 bottles which had been incorrectly confiscated.

But the merchant pleaded with the court that he was unaware of the law, which required him to affix the duty stamps within five days from their procurement, and said in his defence that the bottles were stashed away in a basement floor of his outlet.

Far from not being accessible to the public as the wine merchant claimed, the Customs inspector told the Court that the Baron Max basement was easily accessible to customers. The Court agreed that the law made no distinction between which bottles are considered ‘in storage’ or not, since the rules were clear on affixing imported products with a duty-paid label once issued.

“It is no defence to state that the bottles were simply being stored, or that at the time of inspection these were not for sale… a fiscal law has to be respected to the letter without variance,” the court said, which refused the wine merchant’s protestations that the Customs confiscsation had been illegal.

The merchant also pleaded that having acquired over 7,000 duty stamps, he could not be considered as having stolen anything from the public exchequer.

But the Court was adamant that this reasoning was wrong, given that the duty stamps acquired exceeded by far the amount of bottles in the store without an affixed stamp. “The plaintiff himself stated that some bottles ended up being sold without their excise duty stamp. This means that any one of these duty stamps could have then been affixed on any other bottle, on which no duty would have been paid. It is in this way that the failure to affix the stamps in the time requested at law, placed the plaintiff in a situation where he could have easily evaded the payment of duty… had this Customs search not taken place.”

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