When an economic operator is confronted for the first time with a demand for inspection by a customs official, he or she is usually perplexed. After the first shock has worn off, the question arises as to how to deal with the situation. A few tips and advice are given below.
Measures should be prepared and undertaken even before the inspection. For example, important paperwork relevant to the inspection and supporting materials should be compiled and made readily available. Experience has shown that these are regularly incomplete or stored in different locations. If the customs‑relevant documents cannot be submitted in a timely and complete manner, this will usually lead to the imposition of a fine. The customs auditor will also determine that the company does not have the capacity to be audited.
Even before submitting to the customs check, the economic operator should check whether all the necessary supporting documentation exists and can be presented promptly. If this is not the case, they should be complied and stored, ideally digitally, in a central location. Customs forms and records may also need to be requested from a commissioned customs agency.
The subject of a customs audit may be an import — concerning the proper payment of import duties (customs and import VAT) –- or an export (export duties do not exist, but export control law and foreign trade law apply). In the latter case, the customs authorities act for the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA). However, the customs authorities may also be checking so‑called preferences (these are preferential tariff rates of other countries or customs unions which have “commissioned” the German customs authorities to carry out the inspection). Finally, the customs authorities may be examining for the correct payment of excise duties or violations of so‑called market organization law (EU common agricultural law, e.g., compliance with certain quotas) or to check for undeclared work (so-called work performed “under the table”).
After reviewing the custom authorities’ examination order, the economic operator should always consult with a professional advisor to coordinate the correct “tactical approach” and determine any urgent measures which need to be taken. In questionable cases, this can help to reduce the tax burden or to prevent fines or criminal proceedings.