France: The crème de la crème of customs officials convicted of illegal coffee trade

Six former officers are suspected of inflating their seizure figures by secretly colluding with a human trafficker.

It all started with a record seizure in the summer of 2015.

AFP

Six customs officials are on trial in Paris starting Monday in response to a scandal uncovered by the discovery of a counterfeit coffee trade. These experienced men would have falsified their seizure figures by secretly colluding with a human trafficker. The case brings up an issue that has consistently rocked customs or anti-drug police for the past few years: the management of certain whistleblowers.

She brings the ex-head of the National Directorate for Secret Services and Customs Investigations (DNRED), five of his subordinates, two informants and an entrepreneur from Le Havre to the bench of the accused.

It all started with a record seizure in the summer of 2015, when customs officials discovered 43 tons of counterfeit coffee in the Paris region. “A first on national territory,” boasts Bercy, its oversight ministry. But the historical setting quickly becomes suspicious. Who could really sell thousands of packets of this poor quality Robusta in France?

Seventy-seven tons of coffee were never found

According to the investigation, the operation was in fact carried out entirely by the powerful Directorate of Customs Operations (DOD), DNRED’s armed wing, with the help of a “high-level” “adviser” — in jargon an informant — Zoran Petrovic. In exchange for the “pipes” of this former Serbian soldier, who organized the transport and storage of the goods himself, the customs hierarchy would have allowed him to import his own containers into the port of Le Havre without being checked.

The 43 tons of coffee are thus unloaded in a load of 120 tons. For the coroner Aude Buresi, the remaining 77 tons, which were never found, probably contained contraband cigarettes for the benefit of this smuggler, who is close to the Chinese mafia.

A blacklisted “uncle”.

Serious suspicion of corruption weighs on Pascal Schmidt, head of the Defense Ministry in Le Havre and agent in dealing with Zoran Petrovic. His office hid almost 800,000 euros in cash and two luxury watches, including one offered by the Serb. But aside from this duo’s incestuous relationship, the investigation uncovered a troubled system surrounding this “uncle,” who was deemed dangerous and has been “blacklisted” since 2009.

His charisma did not prevent him from becoming a central part of the administration. Between 2011 and 2015, thanks to his “information”, customs organized 32 seizures – counterfeits, medicines, coffee, cigarettes – for which he was paid almost 400,000 euros under various aliases. Improper amounts of money for a rare whistleblower, earning most of the defendants charges of embezzlement and organized fraud, in addition to possible complicity in importing counterfeit coffee.

The trial is scheduled to last until June 9th.

(AFP)

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