French Customs exploits currency declaration rule

 - October 15, 2007, 10:58 AM

Business aircraft passengers and crews are facing fines and delays after inadvertently falling afoul of French Customs regulations on currency. According to FBOs at Paris Le Bourget Airport, customs officers there are rigidly enforcing the requirement to declare currency in excess of £7,622 ($8,239) when arriving in or departing from France.

Several senior executives and members of Middle Eastern royal families have found themselves detained for hours after failing to make such a declaration. French Customs authorities have so far resisted suggestions that they should explain the requirement on signs and on their own paperwork. The customs form for the U.S., for example, clearly highlights the requirement to declare amounts in excess of $10,000.

According to FBO managers at Le Bourget, the rule is being enforced much more stringently at Le Bourget than at other French airports. They were reluctant to speak on the record because earlier attempts to go public on the issue appear to have resulted in their clients being more aggressively targeted by the Customs officials.

The manager of one Le Bourget FBO explained to AIN that when passengers and crews are asked if they have anything to declare to customs, they assume that the officers mean items such as alcohol, tobacco and perfume, which can be subject to duty. The Le Bourget officers then demand to examine bags, and if they find cash or travelers checks in excess of the £7,622 limit, the person will be detained for several hours while paperwork is completed and a fine levied.

According to the French customs code, the fines levied can range from 25 to 100 percent of the amount exceeding the £7,622 limit. In theory, the Customs officials can confiscate the entire amount.

The Le Bourget Customs officers also appear to allow absolutely no latitude in how the currency rule is interpreted. For example, they have refused to accept that one person in the traveling party may be carrying cash for the whole group and thus the £7,622 personal limit should be apportioned among the group.

No exceptions are made for holders of diplomatic passports. According to one of the Le Bourget FBO managers, a Middle Eastern royal family bound for the EuroDisney theme park was detained and fined. They left France the next day, vowing not to return and so depriving the French economy of infinitely more income than the Customs fine.

Flight-planning group Universal Weather & Aviation is now issuing corporate crews with a form explaining France’s currency rules.

There are no common European Union requirements to declare currency passing in and out of member states. The UK, for example, does not require a declaration for a set amount of currency, although its Customs officials are permitted to “ask questions” if they find travelers carrying in excess of £10,000 ($16,322).

A European Commission official told AIN that he is not aware of any other European Union state that imposes a currency-declaration requirement. He said that in 2001 the EC threatened legal action against the French government for “imposing disproportionate penalties” against those failing to make declarations, but said that the matter had yet to be resolved by the European Court of Justice.