The Senate is about to vote on a customs reform

Destruction of seized cigarettes and counterfeit articles, carried out by a shredder installed in a truck, on March 11, 2011 in Marseille (AFP/Archives/ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT)

Securing the right to search customs officers, modernizing their means of action and strengthening sanctions against tobacco trafficking: the Senate with a right-wing majority is preparing to adopt a draft customs reform on Tuesday.

The senators will decide by a solemn public ballot in the afternoon. They completed the examination of this bill last Wednesday, the same day that Bercy published an “exceptional” 2022 report for French customs, with in particular a record of 649.07 tonnes of tobacco and cigarettes seized.

In a decision of September 22, the Constitutional Council declared unconstitutional Article 60 of the Customs Code, which provides that “with a view to investigating fraud”, its agents may inspect goods, means of transport and people.

The “Wise Men” felt that the article did not specify “sufficiently the applicable framework”. They gave the government until September 1, 2023 to propose a new wording.

To respond to the criticisms made by the Constitutional Council, the bill completely rewrites article 60 to secure the right of access.

According to the text, the right to search goods and people will remain full and complete in the border zone and in the geographical area of ​​the “customs radius” (40 km inside the territory beyond the border strip) as well as at ports, airports, international train and bus stations.

Outside this radius, it must be “reasoned in order to be legally secure” after prior information (and no authorization) from the public prosecutor or with plausible reasons to suspect a customs offence.

The article specifies the right of persons: the visit may consist of patting down or searching their clothes and luggage, but excludes strip searches except during customs detention.

– “Customs 2.0” –

The text also provides “better supervision” of the most intrusive investigation techniques (sound system or image capture).

It proposes a three-year experiment extending the retention of data from automated license plate readers (LAPI) – four months maximum – to improve the fight against “go-fast” in particular.

Provision is also made for the authorization of the temporary withholding of sums of cash within the territory in the event of indications relating to criminal activity.

Photo of cartridges of counterfeit cigarettes taken on May 30, 2009 in Ivry-sur-Seine in the Val-de-Marne

Photo of cartridges of counterfeit cigarettes taken on May 30, 2009 in Ivry-sur-Seine in Val-de-Marne (AFP/Archives/Miguel MEDINA)

Finally, it increases the penalty for manufacturing, fraudulent possession with a view to sale, sale outside the monopoly, fraudulent introduction or importation of manufactured tobacco. It is extended from one to three years (ten years in the case of an organized gang).

“We must give our customs officers the means to carry out their missions”, pleaded Gabriel Attal. “And we must do so while taking care to scrupulously respect human rights and individual freedoms”, underlined the Minister Delegate for Public Accounts.

The senators did not modify the text in depth, but “specified” or “clarified” certain measures, on the initiative of the rapporteurs Albéric de Montgolfier (LR) and Alain Richard (RDPI with a Renaissance majority). The minister repeatedly insisted on complying with the terms of the Constitutional Council.

The Senate also voted on a government amendment “to update the regime for the use of drones by customs” which today, the minister indicated, “does not include the fight against trafficking in manufactured tobacco and does not cover border surveillance”.

The left stumbled on the article creating an operational reserve of the customs administration, with volunteers. “Doesn’t it foreshadow a freeze in customs staff?”, worried the socialist Thierry Cozic.

“Customs is certainly a body in uniform, but it is also a civil administration. The creation of a reserve announces a drift that we do not want”, declared the ecologist Daniel Breuiller.

The communist Eric Bocquet for his part regretted that the text favors “customs 2.0 to customs present in all territories”.

© 2023 AFP

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