Evasion of Import Duty - Rolex Watches Seized at Stansted Airport

Misdescribing goods consigned to the UK with a view to evading import duties is a very serious matter. An American company trading in second-hand luxury watches found that out to its cost when five Rolex time pieces, valued at $59,000, were seized at Stansted Airport.

When intercepted by Border Force officers, the valuable parcel was accompanied by a document which described its contents as 'precision instrument parts' worth $500. It was sent by courier from Miami and was addressed to the father of the company's director of operations. In subsequently refusing to restore the watches to the company, Border Force decided that there had been a deliberate attempt to evade import duties.

Challenging that decision before the First-tier Tribunal (FTT), the company asserted that the watches had been consigned to the director's father by mistake. Human error led to the wrong label being attached to the wrong box and the father should only have been sent some old watch straps and parts. The intended destination of the watches was a trading address of the director in Los Angeles and confusion had arisen because he and his father shared the same surname.

Ruling on the matter, the FTT accepted that Border Force took into account certain irrelevant factors when reaching its decision. There were, however, a number of difficulties with the scenario put forward by the company and much of the evidence given on its behalf was unreliable and inconsistent.

Dismissing the appeal, the FTT agreed with Border Force that the parcel was mislabelled, using the wrong customs code and the wrong value, in order to disguise the nature of its contents and their worth. It further agreed that this had not arisen from a mistake but was instead deliberate.