Fraud investigators suspect the company that supplied the sailors with offshore tobacco carried out a tax fraud that cost the state coffers at least €1.6 million.
FIOD, the tax department’s fraud detection service, is investigating whether Botlek Stores sold cigarettes over the counter to supermarkets, late-night shops and individual customers under the guise of being shipped overseas.
Seafarers are allowed to buy cigarettes for personal use without paying taxes, and can pay around €22 per carton, a quarter of the retail price. Botlek Stores had a special permit from the tax office to supply ships docked in Rotterdam duty-free.
Financiere Dougblad (FD) said on Wednesday that investigators found it suspicious when the company’s sales rose dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, despite a significant drop in shipping traffic.
Analysis of that record shows delivery discrepancies, including incredibly large orders and ships receiving tobacco deliveries after the time they are said to have left port.
In one case in December 2020, 750 cartons were recorded to be delivered to the ship for a total of around €15,000. This is a huge amount for a container ship that normally has a crew of 10 to her 20 people.
Botlek Stores was required to report orders over 50 cartons directly to Philip Morris wholesalers, but often did not comply, FD said.
Fraud investigators believe the records were manipulated to cover up the illegal sale of cigarettes to land-based customers. FIOD and the Customs Department did not confirm to FD that they were investigating Botlek Stores or illegal tobacco sales, only that they were dealing with alleged fraud related to “duty-free goods.” confirmed.
However, the administration office, Gielen en Kole, which handled Botlek’s book, confirmed to the newspaper that the FIOD had sent a team of five investigators to the office and seized the company’s records.
The company was declared bankrupt last month after its employees filed papers in Rotterdam’s district court citing large unpaid wages.
The former employee told FD that he was interviewed as a witness at Botlek’s offices in Rotterdam. “I saw strange things going on,” said one. It looked like it was, but it wasn’t, and that was the revenue stream.
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