Importing into the United States requires the importer exercise reasonable care, but competitive market forces and human nature can create the temptation to reduce expenses and maximize profits by finding new ways to save money through questionable application of the customs laws. Failing to exercise reasonable care, however, means possibly being penalized by Customs for import violations under § 1592. ((In summary, if any person does or attempts to enter or introduce merchandise into the United States by means of any material omission or material and false document, written or oral statement, or act that has the potential to alter the classification, appraisement, or admissibility of merchandise Customs will impose costly penalties on the violator. Bear in mind that Customs can impose penalties – civil, criminal and monetary – under a variety of federal laws, not just under 1592.)) This means, among other things, an importer must make sure that they are classifying the merchandise properly. under the correct duty rate, giving accurate dutiable values and descriptions for the merchandise, marking the country of origin correctly, and much more. Failure to do so could cost you dearly in the form of severe monetary penalties, among other potential penalties, imposed by Customs.
CBP encourages importers who may have committed a violation to make a “prior disclosure.” If an importer becomes aware of § 1592 violations, they should not wait for Customs to notify them of the violations and demand payment of duties and penalties; rather they should act immediately and pro-actively and disclose violations or potential violations to Customs so that they can take advantage of significant penalty reductions allowed for those who disclose violations prior to a Customs investigation. This “prior disclosure” process is a formal notice, usually in writing, made to Customs regarding the circumstances of a 1592 violation. 19 CFR § 162.74.
How to Make a Valid Prior Disclosure
For a prior disclosure to be valid, a person must first make the prior disclosure before, or without knowing, that Customs has begun a formal investigation into the potential violation ((A prior disclosure can still have some benefit after a investigation has begun)); also, if the amount of duty loss is known, tender any actual loss of duties, taxes and fees or actual loss of revenue to Customs. In addition to this, the person must disclose the circumstances of the violation, including:
(1) Identif[ying] the class or kind of merchandise involved in the violation;
(2) Identif[ying] the importation or drawback claim included in the disclosure by entry number, drawback claim number, or by indicating each concerned Customs port of entry and the approximate dates of entry or dates of drawback claims;
(3) Specif[ying] the material false statements, omissions or acts including an explanation as to how and when they occurred; and
(4) Set[ting] forth, to the best of the disclosing party’s knowledge, the true and accurate information or data that should have been provided in the entry or drawback claim documents, and stat[ing] that the disclosing party will provide any information or data unknown at the time of disclosure within 30 days of the initial disclosure date. [ . . . ]
19 CFR 162.74(b).
It should be noted that, because the issues that go into making a valid prior disclosure are often complex, when properly done a person can still initiate a valid prior disclosure while avoiding immediate payment of suspected duty loss, and get additional time to assemble all the necessary information.
How Penalties Can Be Reduced or Avoided
Meeting these requirements will qualify the person for substantial penalty reductions in the event that penalties are appropriate. In order for Customs not to levy penalties at all Customs must find the absence of fraud, the presence of negligence or gross negligence, and the merchandise must be unliquidated. In the case of negligence or gross negligence and liquidation has already occurred the penalty will be “the interest on any loss of duties, taxes and fees” “at the prevailing rate of interest” under the Internal Revenue Code. 19 CFR § 162.73(b)(2).
If the violation is a result of fraud and a valid prior disclosure is made, the penalty may be reduced from the equivalent to the domestic value of the goods and to only the amount of lost duties, taxes and fees, or if not duty loss, then just 10% of the dutiable value.
If you believe or have a question about whether you should make a prior disclosure, or have concerns about representations made to Customs or omissions it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney experienced in customs law and prior disclosures. Please contact our office today at (734) 855-4999, or by visiting our contact page.