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CBP

CBP Brings Seizure & Forfeiture Notices to the 21st Century

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 1, 2013 0 comments

Co Authored by Michael DeBiase.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) has published a final rule (the “Rule”) providing CBP with the ability to publish seizure and forfeiture notices on the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) forfeiture website.  CBP believes that such notices will reach a broader range of the public, at less cost, than the current local print publications or customhouse postings.  

You know what?  CBP is right, and kudos to them for this added efficiency that goes into effect on February 28 of this year.     

Pursuant to the Rule, CBP will post all seizure and forfeiture notices for thirty (30) consecutive   days on the DOJ’s site.  Thereafter, CBP may still publish notice in print form when it deems such additional outreach appropriate.   

The beauty of the Rule is that it provides a vehicle by which both the government and the party interested in the seized goods to share in the greater efficiency, streamlined procedures, and reduction in costs offered by giving electronic notice.  This will also make it easier for the interested parties to assert claims for the seized property.

This is a change that needed to happen, and although the process and site will surely experience “growing pains”, the efficiency and cost savings should prove well worth it.

If you do receive a seizure notice, remember, you must file a Petition within 30 days of the seizure notice or, if seeking judicial review of the seizure, file a claim and cost bond equal to 10% of the value of the seized merchandise, up to a maximum of $5,000.

For a summary of the seizure process, review our blog "U.S. Customs Seized My Merchandise, Now What?"

We leave you with our top 3 tips:

  1. Perform Pre-Compliance PRIOR to importing merchandise into the U.S.  Assure the merchandise you will import is compliant with applicable laws/regulations.
     
  2. If CBP detains your products, contact a knowledgeable customs attorney or customs broker to actively demonstrate that there is no violation.  Getting the case resolved in the detention phase is essential.  Otherwise, the seizure case will be much more costly and timely.
     
  3. If CBP seizes your products, make sure your customs attorney knows the policies, procedures, and practices of CBP to effectively pursue the release of the merchandise.
NAFTA

NAFTA and Mexican Government Questionnaires to U.S. Exporters

posted by Jennifer Diaz December 13, 2011 0 comments

In the past year, the Mexican Government (SAT) has issued questionnaires to exporters from the United States which provided a NAFTA Certificate of Origin to the Mexican importer. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificate of Origin is always created and signed by the U.S. exporter or producer, and always provided to the Mexican importer at the time of importation so that the Mexican importer may importer the merchandise into Mexico without paying any customs duties.    Years later, the Mexican Government may send a questionnaire to first the U.S. exporter, and then the Mexican importer, demanding proof that the merchandise really "originated" in the United States and properly entered Mexico without any payment of customs duties. 

The problems are (1) the U.S. exporter falsely completed the NAFTA Certificate of origin either intentionally or by ignorance, (2) the U.S. exporter relied on the U.S. producer who provided misleading information to the U.S. exporter, or (3) the records establishing that the merchandise originated in the United States are not available.

I usually recommend the U.S. exporter who received a letter from the SAT of the Mexican Government to respond. Moreover, it is best to seek the assistance of the supplier of the merchandise to the U.S. exporter and the Mexican importer. If the questionnaire is not answered properly and timely, the SAT will deny the NAFTA preferential treatment, and demand payment of customs duties, late fees, interest, and penalties from the Mexican importer, plus perhaps antidumping duties.  The Mexican importer may end up paying those charges to the Mexican Government agency and then seek full reimbursement, plus legal fees, from the U.S. exporter.

InvestigationTSA

TSA and Pepper Spray – A Story of What NOT to Do

posted by Jennifer Diaz August 14, 2011 1 Comment

Our beloved Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has the responsibility of screening passengers to "ensure that certain items and persons prohibited from flying don’t board commercial airliners."  This is accomplished through 43,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) located at 450 airports around the United States.  While I am waiting in line to be screened, there seems always to be one energetic TSO screaming at my fellow passengers to take our shoes off, remove most liquids, take our belts off, take out our laptops, etc.. it is hard to remember that the official Mission of the TSA is to "protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce."  I do have one funny story to tell you about the TSA and a certain passenger.

While the TSA regulations specifically prohibit the carrying on board an aircraft, or even into the airport, any weapon or explosive device, a particular passenger had a pepper spray pen with him. The pepper spray pen was not detected by the TSO when the passenger’s body and luggage went through those radiation-emitting devices.

That is bad enough, but what the passenger did next was a mistake. After passing through TSA, he then approached the crew of the aircraft at his gate of departure, and handed over the pepper spray pen to the gate agents with some sort of statement that the TSOs did not detect the pen during the screening process.  Predictably, the passenger was then approached by law enforcement, interrogated, and not allowed to fly on that aircraft. The passenger subsequently received a Letter of Investigation from the TSA with the threat of a $11,000 penalty for attempting to compromise a security system utilized by TSA.

Seems to me that the gate agents and TSA should simply have said "thank you" to the passenger for turning over the pepper spray pen, rather than going on a witch hunt.  Perhaps the lesson the TSA wants to get across to people is not to tell the truth. If the passenger had kept his mouth shut, he would have kept his pepper spray pen, not missed his flight, and not have to pay a potential penalty of $11,000.  Plus, I guess now the TSOs will start yelling at passengers that the list of prohibited items includes pepper spray pens.

One more thing.  While it is prohibited to carry on board an aircraft any pepper spray, you may still transport it in your checked luggage, according to the TSA website

ExportOFAC

The Journal for Export Control Professionals

posted by Jennifer Diaz April 29, 2011 0 comments

I am pleased to introduce to you a new periodical, "World Export Controls Review – the journal of export controls and compliance," published by Brightlaw Media Ltd., London, England.  The first issue published in March 2011 is free.  The April 2011 publication contains my article entitled "Good Practice: Responding to an OFAC Administrative Subpoena" (available only upon request).

The publication reports on sanctions programs such as the United States has with Burma, Iran, and Libya, as well as general international trade topics such as "U.S. Tightens Controls on Foreign Workers" or "Evolving Intent Standards in U.S. Prosecutions". The publication is truly for the legal experts in international trade and export controls.

heading3

world ecr helps its readers stay on top of:

  • Developments in export control regulation and policy around the world,
     
  • Changing enforcement policies and practice governing export and re-export,
     
  • Legal implications of changing distribution technologies, 
     
  • Best practice in trade regulation compliance, and
  •  
  • Encryption, technology transfer and end-use and end-user controls.

I hope you enjoy reading the article, and will subscribe to the publication. 

Events

2nd Conference of the Americas

posted by Jennifer Diaz April 26, 2011 0 comments

The International Bar Association’s 2nd Conference of the Americas takes place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Miami, Florida, May 4-6, 2011. The inaugural Conference of the Americas took place in Mexico City in 2008.   The International Bar Association (IBA) is the largest legal organization in the world.

This Second Conference will again be the perfect opportunity for legal professionals from North America and South America to network, share information, and identify issues, concerns and opportunities across the Americas’ legal markets and jurisdictions.  The Program sessions are focused on 8 areas:

  1. The region in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
  2. Cartel enforcement and leniency programs.
  3. International trade.
  4. Taxation
  5. Dispute resolution.
  6. Energy issues and infrastructure.
  7. Social networking.
  8. General Counsel Forum.

This event is also supported by the International Law Section of the Florida Bar Association.  The Conference Program Co-Chairs are Pierre Bienvenu based in Montreal, Peter Quinter based in Miami, and Claudio Undurraga based in Santiago.  To register for the conference, please do so on-line.  For questions, please contact any of the three people above.

I look forward to seeing you in Miami.

Export

New Export Enforcement Priorities Come with New Names at the Bureau of Industry and Security

posted by Jennifer Diaz April 17, 2011 0 comments

On April 14, 2011, in Washington, D.C., David Mills, the new Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), U.S. Department of Commerce, and his Special Advisor, Bob Rarog, explained the enforcement priorities of BIS. These priorities were established by Eric Hirschhorn, who was just sworn in as Under Secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) on April 2, 2010, after being appointed by President Obama. This event was part of the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law’s Export Controls and Economic Sanctions Committee.

David Mills, who has an excellent perspective from recently being a private practicing attorney, and was formerly the Chief of Licensing at the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), identified the three primary initiatives of export enforcement by the BIS.

1.  Efficiency – process administrative cases faster.

2.  Education – outreach program to exporting companies.

3.  Enforcement – going for the $250,000 maximum penalty or twice the value of the transaction, whichever is greater.

David Mills stated that where both OFAC and BIS have jurisdiction over a violation, it is best to file voluntary self disclosure simultaneously with both agencies.  Generally, Special Agents from the BIS’ Office of Export Enforcement will conduct the investigation thereafter.  Another interesting point was that the Obama Administration remains focused on Iran, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and prohibiting any transactions with Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). This is consistent with the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent National Counter-Proliferation Initiative to increase the detection and prosecution of export control violations. For the past two years since this Initiative started, the number of criminal and civil cases targeting violations of the ITAR, EAR and trade sanctions have greatly increased. Federal agents from the FBI, Justice, BIS, ICE, OFAC, State and Defense have investigated and prosecuted companies and individuals for illegally exporting goods and technology not only to countries such as Iran, China and Cuba, but also to close allies such as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan and Israel. 

What surprised many of the legal experts listening to David Mills who practice in the area of export controls was the statement by Mr. Mills that the filing of voluntary self disclosure by the company with BIS will not necessarily protect the employees of that company. Mr. Mills was sending a message:

Willful or knowing, as opposed to inadvertent,  violations by individuals will be punished.

Mr. Mills clearly set forth a new policy:

Special Agents of BIS are directed to focus on investigating culpable individuals for criminal prosecution or civil penalties.

He also stated that it is often an appropriate action for the company to terminate the employee who violates the laws of the United States.

U.S.Customs

Todd Owen – U.S. Customs Commissioner Bersin’s Hand-Picked Leader in Los Angeles

posted by Jennifer Diaz April 10, 2011 0 comments

In my recent blog post entitled "The 3 Dirty Words Unspoken by U.S. Customs Commissioner Bersin", I  had advised that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin had established some priorities.  One of the most prominent action steps already implemented by Commissioner Bersin was to reassign Todd Owen from his position as Executive Director for Cargo and Conveyance Security at CBP Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to become the new Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, California.

In his former role, Mr. Owen was responsible for all cargo security programs and policies for CBP, including the National Targeting Center-Cargo, and the 100% scanning initiative. In Mr. Owen’s new position, he now has the responsibility over LAX, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as Las Vegas International Airport. 45% of the maritime cargo which enters the U.S. does so through LA/Long Beach.  By comparison, the next largest port is Port Elizabeth, at 11%.  LAX is also the second largest international airport behind JFK.

Many people first got to know Todd when he was appointed Director of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), a position which he served from January 2005 to May 2006.  Todd has also held the position of Area Port Director in New Orleans, positions with CBP in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and started his career in 1990 as an Import Specialist in Cleveland, Ohio.  In addition to his impressive career achievements at CBP, he has excelled academically too.  Mr. Owen is a career member of the Senior Executive Service, and was a senior executive fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. 

Todd’s professional background and personal characteristics fit squarely into what Commissioner Bersin appears to be promoting at CBP- persons with (1) technical knowledge, (2) a reputation for fairness, (3) a willingness to listen to the international trade community, and (4) a keen understanding of the joint objective of economic security and national security.

Department of Homeland SecuritySeizures

Notice of Detention of Merchandise by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

posted by Jennifer Diaz February 24, 2011 4 Comments

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a February 22, 2011 60-Day Notice and Request for Comments regarding its use of a "Notice of Detention".  I know, a lot of you are saying to yourselves, "When did CBP starting using Notices of Detention," and my response to you is "That’s a darn good question!"

The law, 19 U.S.C. 1499 and 19 CFR 151.16, allows CBP officers at the border to stop and search persons for merchandise.  If the CBP officer discovers something suspicious, and takes it from you, then it has been "detained".  In exchange, the CBP officer is required to send to the importer or passenger a Notice of Detention form no later than 5 business days from the date of the examination, stating that: (1) the merchandise has been detained, (2) the reason for the detention, and (3) the anticipated length of the detention. 

That all sounds reasonable, but the problem is that the legal requirement is often ignored by CBP.  Often, a Notice of Detention is never issued by CBP to the importer, or is issued late or does not state the reason for the detained merchandise.  I  have seen a few hundred Notices of Detention over the past 21 years as a customs lawyer, but have never seen one that described "the anticipated length of detention."

The Request for Comments asks the public for "ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected."  I have a way to enhance the quality of the CBP Notice of Detention – follow the law and issue it every time, on time, and accurately.   For those who want to respond formally to CBP, click on the link for the address to address comments before April 25, 2011

BISExport

Save Money by Admitting Your Export Violations to the U.S. Commerce Department

posted by Jennifer Diaz December 12, 2010 0 comments

Sometimes it is beneficial for an exporter to voluntarily self-disclose its export violations to the U.S. Government.  Maybe an exportation of an item occurred without first obtaining the necessary license, or maybe the item was shipped to a company overseas other than allowed in a license. Both situations are violations of the Export Administration Regulations, and both violations could result in $250,000 penalties against the exporter. By voluntarily self-disclosing the violation, the exporter would reduce, and might even eliminate, such a penalty.

For a suspected violation of 15 CFR 764.2 of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) enforced by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, an exporter may submit a voluntary self-disclosure (popularly known as a "VSD") to the Office of Export Enforcement of BIS at its Washington, D.C. headquarters office.  The contents of what must be included in a VSD are established in 15 CFR 764.5.

Procedurally, once a properly filed VSD is received by the BIS, it is investigated by a Special Agent from the Office of Export Enforcement. If a penalty or other sanction is contemplated, the case is referred to an attorney with the Office of Chief Counsel of BIS.  The BIS attorney will contact the exporter’s attorney, eventually resulting in a written Settlement Agreement between the exporter and the BIS.  Negotiating the terms of the Settlement Agreement is critical.

The Obama Administration is actively pursuing export control reforms. Importantly, Kevin Wolf, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, on November 9, 2010, at the Global Trade Controls Conference in London, England, stated:

Enforcement will become an even higher priority…We have long promoted the submission of voluntary self-disclosures (VSDs).  We view VSDs, along with internal compliance programs, as important mitigating factors. 

There will always be occasional errors by exporters.  Exporters should consult with knowledgeable and experienced international trade attorneys before submitting a VSD.  With more enforcement, there are sure to be more investigations and more penalties assessed by the Government against exporters, and likely more VSDs submitted to the Government by exporters.

U.S.Customs

Why is U.S. Customs Issuing So Many Requests for Information (CBP Form 28)?

posted by Jennifer Diaz November 7, 2010 2 Comments

WARNING!  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a record number of CBP Form 28s (Request for Information) and CBP Form 29s (Notice of Action) so far this year.  Import Specialists of CBP at ports of entry all over the United States are sending out these forms to importers demanding responses.  If the responses are not satisfactory, the CBP officer will demand payment of customs duties. What an importer states in its response to CBP may result in CBP taking no further action, assessing customs duties, issuing a monetary penalty notice, or even referring the case for criminal prosecution. 

A CBP Form 28 is entitled "Request for Information", and it demands that a response be submitted by the importer of record, in writing to CBP, within 30 days of the date of the Request.  The response is typically signed and dated by a company official, usually a corporate officer or manager.  Moreover, the company employee who signs the form certifies that the statements made by the company are true and correct.  The person who signs the CBP form is reminded that false statements on the form to CBP may result in criminal prosecution against that person.

CBP may demand records and assess penalties, demand payment of duties, or take other legal action up to 5 years after an entry of a shipment is made in the United States, according to 19 U.S.C. 1509, 19 U.S.C. 1621, and 19 CFR Part 151.  A Request for Information form may be the first step for CBP to discover violations committed by an importer.  Typically, the CBP officer demands proof that a certain product ((often a textile) qualified for the free trade agreement identified by the importer when it brought the shipment into the United States.  Another typical demand from CBP is an explanation from the importer why a shipment of a certain item from a certain country (often China) should not be subject to anti-dumping duties.  The most common problem remains that CBP believes that an importer failed to declare the proper tariff classification on the imported product, thereby attempting to avoid paying higher customs duties.

Why CBP is now issuing a record number of CBP Form 28s has not been disclosed to the public. Maybe it is the Federal Government’s misguided effort to collect additional revenue, or maybe CBP discovered that importers are not properly declaring shipments as accurately as they did in prior years.  Whatever the reason, importers and customs brokers must be careful when drafting and filing a written response to CBP. 

I am regularly hired by importers or customs brokers only after CBP has taken action against the importer or broker which resulted from not carefully responding to a CBP Form 28.  Rather than getting hired after ‘the horse is out of the barn,’ it sure would be easier for a customs attorney like me to get hired to draft the response to the CBP Request for Information.