MORE VIETNAMESE COFFEE SEIZED BY CUSTOMS AGENTS

MORE VIETNAMESE COFFEE SEIZED BY CUSTOMS AGENTS

Customs officials have made more seizures in an international investigation of imported Vietnamese coffee beans in the United States.

During the past few weeks, at least two shipments worth approximately $150,000 apiece have been seized in San Francisco, while another $3 million worth of banned beans was confiscated in New Orleans."The amount we seized is pretty substantial, but there is a lot of coffee coming in" right now, a Customs agent in San Francisco said.

"It's being talked about in the industry, and they are very concerned. These are legitimate companies who are worried about their futures," the agent said.

The Trading with the Enemies Act prohibits direct or indirect imports. Federal officials invoked the act to impose trade sanctions on North Vietnam in May 1964, later extending the restrictions to South Vietnam in April 1975.

Although U.S. trade laws toward Vietnam have recently been relaxed and importers are allowed to enter into contracts with Vietnamese companies, actual trading is still prohibited.

Federal law provides criminal fines of up to $1 million for corporations found of wrongdoing, while individuals can be fined up to $250,000, imprisoned up to 10 years or both. Importers also face the financial loss of their merchandise upon seizure and are liable for civil penalty action.

Earlier this year, Customs officials in four cities and on two continents began looking into an apparent attempt to sneak Vietnamese coffee beans into the United States.

In October, Customs agents in New Orleans seized 2,419 metric tons of coffee valued in excess of $3.1 million. The beans were shipped from Singapore and entered the United States ostensibly as a product of Thailand.

Last week, the Southern agents captured another 184-metric-ton shipment suspected as originating in Vietnam. The shipment again came from Singapore, this time entering as a product of Indonesia.

To date, Customs agents have seized nearly 4 million pounds of coffee, a small amount relative to overall imports. The United States imports more than 2 billion pounds annually, about 80 million pounds from Thailand alone.