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One Hatchback, 68 Tons of Meat: Arrest Ends Swiss Smuggling Case

  • Man detained for smuggling meat into Switzerland over 15 years
  • Prices of food, clothing often lower in France or Germany

Swiss customs officials have ended the career of a smuggler who admitted spiriting thousands of kilos of meat into the country over the past 15 years.

While the 41-year-old man is accused of illegally transferring a total of 27 tons (59,000 pounds) of lamb, 18 tons of beef, 12 tons of chicken and 11 tons of pork, it was just 80 kilograms of fresh meat that tripped him up as he crossed the border in his hatchback car in the mountain town of Morgins.

Source: Swiss Customs Office

The case, revealed by the Geneva regional customs office on Thursday, isn’t an isolated incident.

“Discoveries are quite frequent, they’ve increased over the years,” said Alain Husson, head of the criminal section at the agency, which oversees the area that includes Morgins. “The strength of the franc is a factor, as is the fact that meat is a lot cheaper in France.”

The Swiss often shop for groceries and clothes across the border to take advantage of cheaper prices in neighboring France, Germany, Austria and Italy, and as their spending power gets a boost from the strength of the franc. Switzerland’s currency, popular with investors as a haven, has risen more than 50 percent against the euro since early 2008.

The appeal of cross border shopping hasn’t gone unnoticed by illicit arbitragers, who seek to turn a profit by buying goods cheaply in the euro area and selling them for a higher price in Switzerland. Customs rules allow 1 kilogram of meat to be imported per person each day without duty.

Analysts at Credit Suisse estimate that a 10th of Swiss 2016 retail spending was made abroad, according to a report published earlier this month. With the franc not expected to weaken significantly against the euro in 2017 or 2018, that trend isn’t likely to reverse.

“A marked decline in retail shopping tourism isn’t to be expected in the foreseeable future,” according to the Credit Suisse report.

And that in turn is bad news for Swiss shopkeepers, who experienced a 1.7 percent revenue drop in the non-food segment last year. Clothing and shoe sales plummeted 8.2 percent, while turnover in foodstuffs crept up 0.3 percent.

As for the smuggler in Morgins, he will have to pay nearly 1 million francs ($1 million) in back-duty and also faces court proceedings that could result in a fine or even jail time, Husson said.

“It was an economic crime,” Husson said. “He was reselling the merchandise for a gain.”

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