Customs criminal law can be understood as a particular offence area of criminal law, which essentially relates to criminal tax offences, which is why it can also be titled “special criminal tax law “.
Such customs offences are distinguished from the less strict customs regulatory offences, such as tax jeopardy under § 380 German Fiscal Code (AO) or reckless tax evasion under § 378 AO. However, even in the case of customs offences, there is already the threat of severe fines.
For example, §§ 30, 130 of the German Administrative Offences Act (OWiG) opens up the real possibility of sanctioning a company with a fine of up to ten million euros in the case of a deliberate violation insofar as the provision violated does not stipulate a different maximum.
Customs offences are defined under § 369 (1) no. 1 AO as punishable offences under German tax laws. Therefore, the most critical provision is tax evasion (§ 370 AO), which is accordingly punishable as customs evasion.
In addition, the German Fiscal Code stipulates other specific customs offences, of which the breach of the ban (§ 372 AO), smuggling (§ 373 AO) and tax evasion (§ 374 AO) are of particular practical importance.
In commercial transactions, the main problem is that evasion of import duties is quickly assumed to be commercial, leading to increased penalties.
Despite the international and thus cross-border reference, there are no uniform EU law regulations on criminal liability, so German criminal law, particularly the German Fiscal Code (Abgabenordnung), applies.
On the other hand, customs duties and the requirements associated with the transfer of goods are regulated by EU law, namely the Union Customs Code (in short: CCC, through Regulation [EU] 952/2013). Often overlaps with other offence areas are possible, particularly with narcotics and medicinal products criminal law, if, for example, anabolic steroids or other medicines or narcotics are acquired abroad, imported into Germany and discovered by customs when crossing the border.
In the case of private individuals, smuggling in travel, non-declaration of cash (from 10,000 EUR), and irregularities in handling goods subject to excise duty (especially “improper use”) are of practical importance. In the case of commercially active companies, on the other hand, the focus is on commercial smuggling (§ 373 AO) and customs evasion (§ 370 AO).
In addition, problems can arise that may be accompanied by serious economic losses, for example, if an entire shipping container is seized during a customs inspection, but only a part of the goods may not have been appropriately declared or may infringe intellectual property rights (especially trademark and product piracy).