Expensive drinks for Damascus

In 2019, audit officer Roy Mulder held a number of heated talks with the management board of a major drinks distributor. The company wanted to ship hundreds of litres of exclusive whiskey to Syria, which is banned under EU Regulation 2012/36.

“When Customs intercepted tens of thousands of litres of vodka for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the port of Rotterdam in 2019, it was global news. It is generally assumed that dictatorial leaders use luxury goods to secure the loyalty of their followers. That’s why a lot of those goods are subject to trade restrictions within the framework of sanctions legislation.”

“Months later, I was involved in a similar case. When a colleague was checking a container full of alcoholic drinks bound for Syria, he discovered a batch of more than 1,300 bottles of highly exclusive whiskey, with a price of more than 250 Euros per bottle. The Central Import and Export Office had halted the shipment and instructed me to pay a visit to this company as soon as possible. It turned out to be an international distributor of drinks and it even acted as a broker. A market party of that calibre should have known this shipment couldn't be exported to Syria. When I met up with management for a consultation, they admitted they were aware of their guilt. To prevent this from happening again, they adjusted all kinds of internal procedures, such as building in red flags at the order desk. Customs monitors if the company sticks to the rules now. The investigation in this case is still ongoing for that matter; in the meantime, the company is looking after the whiskey.”

“In these kinds of cases, companies are often more than willing to cooperate because they are afraid of the consequences. They can face considerable punishments, from high fines to years of imprisonment. And there’s another serious risk: if businesses violate sanctions and such a case is made public, they can suffer considerable image damage.”

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2019’. Click here to read the full publication.

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