Securing the right of customs officers to search, modernizing their means of action and strengthening sanctions against tobacco trafficking: the Senate with a right-wing majority is preparing to adopt Tuesday, May 30 at first reading a draft reform of customs. Senators will vote by solemn public vote in the afternoon. They completed last Wednesday the examination of this bill, the same day that Bercy published an "exceptional" 2022 balance sheet for the French customs, including a record of 649.07 tons of tobacco and cigarettes seized.
In a decision of 22 September, the Constitutional Council declared unconstitutional article 60 of the Customs Code, which provides that "with a view to investigating fraud", its agents may inspect goods, means of transport and persons. The "Wise Men" considered that the article did not "sufficiently specify the applicable framework". They gave the government until September 1, 2023 to propose a new wording.
In response to the criticisms made by the Constitutional Council, the bill completely rewrites Article 60 to secure the right of access. According to the text, the right to search goods and persons will remain full and complete in the border area and in the geographical area of the "customs radius" (40 km within the territory beyond the border strip) as well as in international ports, airports, railway and bus stations.
Outside this radius, it must be "motivated in order to be legally secure" after prior information (and not authorization) from the public prosecutor or with plausible reasons to suspect a customs offense. The article specifies the right of persons: the visit may consist of the pat-down or search of their clothes and luggage, but excludes the search of body except in the case of customs detention.
" READ ALSO Customs: Attal defends a text of "general mobilization" against trafficking
The text also provides for "better supervision" of the most intrusive investigative techniques (sound or image capture). It proposes a three-year experiment extending the retention of data from automated license plate readers (ANPR) - four months maximum - to improve the fight against "go-fast" in particular. It also authorizes the temporary withholding of cash within the territory in the event of evidence of criminal activity.
Finally, it increases the penalty for fraudulent manufacture, possession for sale, sale outside the monopoly, fraudulent introduction or importation of manufactured tobacco. It is increased from one to three years (ten years in the case of organized gangs). "We must give our customs officers the means to carry out their missions," said Gabriel Attal. "And we must do so while ensuring that human rights and individual freedoms are scrupulously respected," said the Minister Delegate for Public Accounts.
"Use of drones by customs"
The senators did not modify the text in depth, but "specified" or "clarified" certain measures, at the initiative of rapporteurs Albéric de Montgolfier (LR) and Alain Richard (RDPI with Renaissance majority). The minister has repeatedly insisted on complying with the terms of the Constitutional Council. The Senate also voted a government amendment "to update the regime of use of drones by customs" which today, said the minister, "does not include the fight against manufactured tobacco trafficking and does not cover border surveillance".
The left stumbled over the article creating an operational reserve of the customs administration, with volunteers. "Doesn't it foreshadow a freeze on customs staff?" said socialist Thierry Cozic. "Customs is certainly a uniformed body, but it is also a civil administration. The creation of a reserve announces a drift that we do not want, "said ecologist Daniel Breuiller. The communist Eric Bocquet regretted that the text favors "a customs 2.0 to a customs present in all territories".