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Smuggling from Transdniestria: myths and reality -organizational-legal aspects of customs procedures

Smuggling from Transdniestria: myths and reality -organizational-legal aspects of customs procedures
Sergey Moser
aspirant of the Russian Customs Academy of  Federal customs service of Russia.
cover_habarovskThe article demonstratively on the basis of significant number of facts discredits the myth of uncontrolled flow of goods from the territory of Transdniestria to the territory of Ukraine and the myth of so-called smuggling of drugs and weapon, threatening to European security.
In December 2005 the European Union established the Monitoring Mission comprised customs and border guard services to provide border assistance to Moldova and Ukraine. One of the core reasons to decide upon launching EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine were the allegations of smuggling of drugs and weapon from Transdniestria threatening to European security. In order to refute conjectures and objectivity of the decision upon EU Border Assistance Mission it is necessary to reveal the content of organizational-legal aspects of customs procedures.
Situated to the East of the Republic of Moldova between the Dniester River and Ukraine, Transdniestrian  Moldavian Republic occupies the territory of  4163 square kilometers with the total border length of 816 km and a population of 555 000 inhabitants. The Moldavian-Ukrainian border joins on the North and on the South from TMR; Transdniestria has no common borders with third states.
Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic borders the Republic of Moldova on the West, and Ukraine – on the East, so it is situated in a compact ring under the control of Moldavian and Ukrainian customs and border guard services. All cargo traffic destined for Transnistria as well as exportation, movement of natural persons across the border of the region (before the change of customs regime of customs activity in Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic) pass through the customs and border control at Transdniestrian-Ukrainian border and Transdniestrian-Moldavian border respectively.
It should be remembered that  the Republic of Moldova by Parliament Regulation “On measures of implementation the Budget Act of 1999” № 217-XIV of 12.12.2008, separated (in respect of customs activity) the customs territory of Transdniestria from the rest of the Republic of Moldova. The Government of the Republic of Moldova had to create till 1 February 1999 the second line of customs conrol inside the country that was understood as the line along the perimeter of the Transdniestrian border.
With a view to fulfil the aforementioned act, Moldavian Parliament Regulation № 362 of 28.04.1999 “On joint inland fiscal control posts” prescribed to the Department for Customs Control and the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Moldova to create joint inland fiscal control posts*. They would have to operate continuously along the whole border with Transdniestrian region and to demand payment of VAT and excise duty from Transdniestrian economic operators.
New control mechanism making an impact on regime of customs activity of Transdniestria at Moldavian-Transdniestrian border, provided establishment of two kinds of posts:stationary and mobile ones. The first was the group of officials located in equipped places for perfomance of their duties, the second one was the offiicials provided with special equipment and transport to move within a radius of controlled sector. The groups were comprised of representatives from Department for Customs Control, Ministry of Internal Affairs, territorial Fiscal Inspection of the Republic of Moldova.
It is significant that stationary and mobile posts dislocated along the Transdniestrian border performed the functions of exercising customs control, collection of customs payments and taxes, organization and  carrying out checks of personal and vehicle documents,  goods accompanying documents and etc., when purchasing and saling goods or services.
At the same time customs officers and officials from authorities of internal affairs of the Republic of Moldova were empowered to conduct joint operations with spesialized units to fight against smuggling of weapon, ammunition and currency on the Transdniestrian segment of Moldavian border. The officials of the post would have to carry out patrol and guarding of all access ways bypassing the posts of controlled line at the border with Transdniestria and the routes in control zone as well as at the points of crossing the line and control zone.
With reference to legal status of inland posts the Republic of Moldova determined that the procedures of document clearance and customs control over export-import transactions fulfilled with foreign countries by Transdniestrian economic operators crossing the zones of inland posts, were analogous to activity of  customs check points. In accordance with legislation of the Republic of Moldova, in case of revealing the facts of smuggling and customs offences vehicles with cargo were escorted to the internal customs house for drawing up protocols and decision making on goods detained.
The technology of control exercised by the Republic of Moldova over export-import transactions of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic at the border with Moldova provided transportation of goods destined for CIS countries through joint inland fiscal control posts with advanced customs clearance performed in internal customs houses of the Republic of Moldova and producing the copy of goods declaration at these posts. Thus, all import, export and transit operations through the territory of Transdniestria  were controlled by the Moldavian side on moving goods across the Moldavian-Transdniestrian border.
Analyzing the organization of control by the Republic of Moldova over all export-import transactions of Transdniestria it is necessary to mention Instruction of the Director General of the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova № 254-0 of 20.10.2002 to the chiefs of customs houses (including those bordering Transdniestria) which prescribed to take all necessary measures to prevent illegal transportation of goods through inland joint fiscal posts at the border with Transdniestria, as well as to inform weekly the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova on the volume of goods imported through these posts and on the amount of collected customs duties.
Analyzing the aforesaid problem it is necessary to say about joint work of customs escort groups of the State Customs Committee of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic and the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova: the technology of joint customs control exercised by Transdniestria and Moldova over cargo transit through the territory of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic was no different from cargo delivery procedure under customs control in the CIS area.
For instance, goods directed from the Port of Odessa (Ukraine) to economic operator in Kishinev (the Republic of Moldova) while passing through the territory of Transdniestria were escorted under customs control by customs escort group of the State Customs Committee of TMR to the border with Moldova where transmitted to the escort group of the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova. Officers of Customs Services of Transdniestria and the Republic of Moldova recorded transmission of goods from one side to the other in a register book. They imprinted their personal numbered seals to certify the fact of goods transmission from Customs Service of Transdniestria to Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova.
This procedure was performed in the reverse sequence, for example, when the cargo directed from Romania through the territory of the Republic of Moldova to economic operator in Transdniestria. Legal relationship concerning goods escort under customs control and their transmission from one side to the other were regulated by agreements achieved at the level of work groups of the Customs Services of Transdniestria and Moldova and departmental regulations of the sides. With a view to fight against smuggling and customs offences the procedure of export/import information exchange was carried out between Customs Services of Transdniestria and the Republic of Moldova. The letter from the Director General of the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova  to the State Customs Committe of Transdniestria № 5938 of 13.11.2001 specified that for the purposes of customs control over goods delivery to customs offices of destination of the Republic of Moldova it should be indicated the information on goods imported by economic operators of Transdniestria within the period from 16 July till 15 October 2001.
This process had a systematic character, mutual data exchange for customs purposes was carried out on a continuing basis. For example, the letter of the Department for Customs Control of the Republic of Moldova of 01.04.2002 to the State Customs Committe of Transdniestria contained the information on cargoes destined for Transdniestrian economic operators within the period from 15.10.2001 to 21.12.2001. It should be borne in mind that since 1992 to present day joint Peacekeeping forces has been working on the territory of Transdniestria consisting of representatives of armed forces of the Russian Federation, Transdniestria and the Republic of Moldova. Besides, trilateral block posts of military contingents located along the perimeter of the Transdniestrian border also ensured security regime as the additional control line on the way of moving goods and natural persons.

Summurizing the aforesaid, it is necessary to emphasize the following points:

  • in 1999 the Republic of Moldova separated the customs territory of Transdniestria from the customs territory of the Republic of Moldova having established the line of customs and fiscal control  along the border with Transdniestria;
  • Moldavian side set up the posts along the border with Transdniestria with the status corresponded to border and customs checkpoints of the Republic of Moldova at the external borders of Moldova;
  • all goods, vehicles and natural persons, crossing the Transdniestria-Moldavian border were subject to customs and border control performed by authorized bodies of the Republic of Moldova;
  • Moldavian customs officers at the posts along the perimeter of Transdniestrian border started to perform customs clearance and customs control over Transdniestrian cargoes (exported) and collected VAT and excise duties on these cargoes;
  • Transdniestrian cargoes were regarded by Moldavian side as foreign ones, thus, because of  payment VAT and excise duties they became noncompetitive in Moldavian market;
  • following the establishment of customs and fiscal posts along the whole Transdniestrian border, groundless accusations against Transdniestria of uncontrolled situation at the border and smuggling were declined.
As mentioned above, Transdniestria borders Ukraine on the East, the eastern border coincides with the borderline determined by Agreement between the Government of Ukraine and the Government of the Republic of Moldova on Moldavian-Ukrainian state border checkpoints and simplified admission procedurefor border area residents of 11.03.1997. The Agreement determined checkpoints’ categories including those on Transdniestrian segment of Moldavian-Ukraininan border through which natural persons, vehicles, goods and cargoes from any state moveв as well as border area residents-citizens of  Ukraine and Moldova passed under simplified procedure.
The Law of Ukraine “On the State Border” determines that crossing of the state border is carried out through the state border crossing points in accordance with the established procedure.
With a view to adopt single approaches to the check point operation procedure at the state border of Ukraine as well as control operations sequence and content, admission procedure for natural persons, vehicles, cargoes and other properties, the State Customs Service of Ukraine, the State Committee for State Border Guarding and the Ministry of Transport approved 05.03.2001 the Typical technological scheme for admission of natural persons, vehicles, cargoes and other properties.
Under this typical scheme valid on the Transdniestrian segment of Moldavian-Ukrainian border, the admission of natural persons, vehicles, cargoes and other properties across the state border of Ukraine is carried out following the performance of border and customs control. In other words, legislation of Ukraine designated border crossing points at the border with Transdniestria and eliminated uncontrolled movement of goods and vehicles across the customs border of Ukraine. The physical presence of customs and border guard officers at border crossing points along the whole perimeter of the Transdniestrian border and performance of their duties prescribed by law ensured customs clearance and customs control over all Transdniestrian cargoes originated from the territory of Transdnistrian region.
Thus, the problem of uncontrolled movement of goods from the territory of Transdniestria and so-called smuggling of drug and weapon threatening to European security can not be even mentioned.
Taking into account the geographical factor and the importance of establishing fruitful cooperation with Ukrainian counterparts, the State Customs Committee of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic held meetings and concluded agreements covering different directions of cooperation with Customs Service of Ukraine. Both sides had no doubts concerning the need for such cooperation.
Nobody focused attention on the issues related international legal personality and unrecognized status of Transdniestrian side at the bargaining table. All sides understood that cooperation was necessary and collaboration in such areas as organization of appropriate customs control, counteracting smuggling and customs offences were actual cooperation directions.
Cooperation between Transdniestrian and Ukrainian Customs Services was carried out at the level of Customs administrations and at the regional level – between customs houses.
Protocol of the meeting held 18.06.1997 between the State Customs Committee of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic and the State Customs Service of Ukraine on the issues of counteracting smuggling and organization of customs control may be given as an example.

Transdniestrian and Ukrainian sides elaborated a set of proposals concerning the following matters:

  • mutual recognition of customs stamps and customs seals used by Transdniestrian and Ukrainian Customs Services;
  • mutual information exchange on means of customs identification that went out of use in order to eliminate movement of goods accompanied by false documents;
  • elaboration and introduction of mechanism for operational cooperation  between departments on struggle against smuggling and customs offences when revealing facts of illicit movement of goods across the customs border;
  •  joint elaboration and implementation of actions on tracing cargoes in transit through Ukraine destined to CIS countries and Baltic States from Transdniestria (including data comparison from register books at border crossing points) in order to eliminate the use by economic operators forged documents;
  • organization of joint customs control to prevent waterway smuggling of goods at Transdniestrian-Ukraininan border;
  • experience and information exchange on customs-related issues at the level of the State Customs Committee of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic and the State Customs Service of Ukraine and at the level of customs houses.
Grounds for interdepartmental cooperation between Customs Services of Ukraine and Transdniestria was determined by agreements signed in the course of working meetings between representatives of customs authorities.
27.05.1999 representatives of the State Customs Committee of Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic and administration of Chernomorskaya regional customs house of Ukraine met in Tiraspol to discuss such issues as elaboration of proposals on organization of joint actions of Transdniestrian and Ukrainian customs bodies at border crossing points, determination of joint  procedure of transmission of cargoes and documents on them under customs escorting to Customs Services. Ukrainian and Transdniestrian counterparts considered the issues related to information exchange in the area of struggle against smuggling and customs offences.
In the framework of the agreements signed between the customs bodies of Ukraine and Transdniestria, for the purposes of counteracting smuggling and customs offences the sides compared statistical data on cargoes transported to Transdniestria and Ukraine. They responded mutual queries on rendering legal assistance in criminal cases and cases related to customs offences.
Thus, customs, border and migration control had been established along the whole perimeter of  Transdniestrian region before the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine was deployed. Border Guard and Customs Services of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova exercised complete control over export-import transactions of Transdniestria at Moldavian-Transdniestrian and Ukrainian-Transdniestrian border without any assistance in the framework of national legislations. This fact eliminated the possibility of smuggling from thrу territory of Transdniestria.

In view of the objective circumstances listed above, two documents were adopted:

  • the first was the Protocol on Results of Visit to Industrial Enterprices of Transdniestria by Joint Experts Group fromUkraine and the Russian Federation of 09.02.2006. The document said, the experts got acquainted with production organization in  a number of enterprices of Tiraspol and Rybnitsa for the purpose to find out possible production of weapon and military equipment, and established that the signs of weapon and military equipment production had not been revealed. Available manufacturing equipment and technologies have been using for production of civil goods;
  • the second one was EUBAM Annual Report 2005/2006. The European customs experts noted that on the basis of available information, EUBAM could not confirm the existence of significant weapons trafficking. While drug smuggling route passing through Northern Moldova continued to turn up a steady flow of drugs (the Northern part of Moldavian-Ukrainian border doesn’t adjoin the Transdniestrian region).
Thus it has taken four years and European Union significant financial costs connected with the deployment of EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine to destroy the myth of drug and weapon smuggling from Transdniestrian region.* Regulation on operation of joint inland fiscal control posts was approved by regulations of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Moldova in August 2000.«Smuggling from Transdniestria: myths and reality (organizational-legal aspects of customs procedures)». Theoretic-methodological application aspects of law-enforcement activity in present-day Russia. Collection of scientific works Dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the chair “Criminal-legal disciplines” of «ДВГУПС». Khabarovsk-2009(Translation: Elena Rozneritsa)

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