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Horror Story: don't take a good fiddle through Germany


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A Guarneri violin owned by renowned violinist Yuzuko Horigome has been seized by the customs office at Frankfurt Airport, apparently because it believes she should pay import tax on the valuable instrument, airport and other sources said.

According to a press official at the airport in Germany and other sources, Horigome arrived from Tokyo last Thursday and tried to pass through a customs gate for tourists who have nothing to declare, as she usually does.

However, a customs official told her the violin, which was inside her bag, should be declared.

Horigome did not have a certificate proving she had paid import tax or documents verifying the history of her violin, so the instrument was confiscated.

The press official said the violin was taken to ensure Belgium-based Horigome paid the tax. The official also said it was seized as evidence since there was the possibility of tax evasion.

The office is still processing the case.

Horigome was reportedly asked to pay 190,000 euros (about 19 million yen) in tax, 19 percent of the 1 million euros the office valued her violin at.

According to the press official, it is possible the violin will be regarded as a tool of her livelihood and therefore no tax will have to be paid.

In 1980, Horigome became the first Japanese to win the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition held at Brussels. She has played with some of the world's leading orchestras.

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'No problems before'

Horigome was stunned when her violin was seized, especially since she has never had a problem taking it through customs before.

"A musical instrument is a tool for my job and like a part of my body as a musician. I've used Frankfurt Airport many times and never had any trouble before," Horigome told The Yomiuri Shimbun by telephone. "I don't understand why this suddenly happened."

Horigome said she is considering filing a suit against the customs office.

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I wonder how a custom official/staff knew that Ms. Horigome had an expensive instrument that she alleged to owe taxes on. Equally perplexing is that he (or she) knew exactly how much taxes Ms. Horigome had alleged evaded. Is this a simple case as reported or is it just a tip of an iceberg? In any event, wow (in a negative way)!

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Please allow me to put the tendentious title/subtitle of this thread:

“don't take a good fiddle through Germany Yukuko Horigome's 1741 GdG being held for ransom by the Zoll”

into context.

Any resident of the EU who purchases a violin abroad, regardless of which price range, must pay “Einführumsatzsteuer” (input VAT) upon importing it into the EU. Einführumsatzsteuer (VAT), where I live is 20%. For a long list of items there is the reduced Einführumsatzsteuer tariff of 10%. (Ziffer 46, Anlage A zu §10 Abs. 2 und §24 UStG) This includes antique violins (customs tariff # 97 06 00 00 10 “Antique, over 100 year old instrument, made of wood”). If one has the instrument shipped, the postman will collect the VAT upon delivery. Should one prefer to bring the violin as hand luggage one can declare it at the airport and pay it at the customs office there. A violin bought in ones own country also includes VAT in the purchase price.

Just walking through the “nothing to declare” gate and evading the tax, is an offence and should one get caught, one has to pay the tax owed and a fine of the same amount as the evaded tax once again. It can also involve criminal charges for tax evasion.

This is, according to the article in the “Bildzeitung”: http://www.bild.de/news/inland/zollamt/der-zoll-hat-meine-geige-1mio-euro-wert-beschlagnahmt-25713368.bild.html

precisely what has occurred here. The customs have had the violin valued and demanded 190.000 Euros Einführumsatzsteuer (VAT), which would imply a valuation of 1,9m. Euros and a further 190.000 fine for tax evasion. Further an investigation has been initiated re. alleged tax evasion.

Should it transpire that Ms Horigome paid the tax upon importing the violin into the EU, it will obviously be given back straight away. The Customs office quoted by the Bildzeitung also offer the possibility of Ms Horigome paying a deposit to retrieve her violin. Otherwise and unless there are circumstances that havn’t been reported here, Ms. Horigome will have little alternative but to pay her taxes, like every other man, woman and child. Quite what suit she wishes to file against the customs officers is beyond my comprehention.

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Jacob, thank you for providing that link (again). With all the articles written about this, it's easy to overlook the one that gives the pertinent details, especially since it's in German, and you say it's an awful rag.

To make matters worse, the Google translation is even worse than usual, and it shows signs of having been tampered with by a demented human. How they got from "Sollte Frau Horigome die Sicherheitsleistungen dafür nicht zahlen" to "Women should not have to pay the security services" is beyond me.

But I'm still queasy about taking an instrument--any instrument--through customs, although I have done it several times in the past.

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I can't read German so forgive me if this question is answered in the article. Is Ms. Horigome, in fact, a resident of the EU? From her name I assume she is Japanese. She was coming from Tokyo and she entered the customs gate for visitors. Could she actually be a visitor? Of course seeing her passport would answer this question. Anyone know whether she is an EU resident? If she is an EU resident and shewent through the tourist gate that might be evidence of intent to avoid taxes. Another question is whether she actually owns the instrument or is using it on loan. I think few performers on Guarneri del Gesu instruments actually own them.

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I don't know for Germany but when you pass the custom in France, Luxembourg or UK it's to get out of the airport (the gave for the passport in a different issue). there is no resident or non resident gate, only the "nothing to declare" or "declare" direction. Over the last 15 years I have never seen any officers in the nothing to declare way. In fact the only time I saw some of them it was in Luxembourg and they had a dog, most like a drug-sniffing dog.

So unfortunately for the violinist she chose to spend some time in Germany, and she got out of the airport. Had she chosen to go directly to Bruxelles where she lives she might have not been spotted.

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This is my translation of this Bildzeitung Article, for the benefit of people who don’t understand any German:

http://www.bild.de/news/inland/zollamt/der-zoll-hat-meine-geige-1mio-euro-wert-beschlagnahmt-25713368.bild.html

STAR MUSICIAN SUSSPECTED OF SMUGGLING

“The Customs have confiscated my 1million Euro Violin”

By M. Schneider 18.08.2012 – 00.01 o’clock

Frankfurt/Main – She came from Tokio and only wanted to change planes, but Star-violinist Yuzuko Horigome (55) had to travel on to Brussels without her million-violin.

STAR VIOLINIST IN SMUGGLE SKANDAL

The customs officers accuse the Japanese lady of violating the import regulations. Now, Horigome should pay 190.000 Euros Input Value added Tax, additionally a further 190.000 Euros fine – otherwise she won’t see her instrument again.

Thursday, 16.50 o’clock. Terminal 1. The famous musician (who has played with the Berlin Philharmonic), landed in the All-Nippon plane NH 209, and was to fly on to Brussels, where her husband and children live.

The Customs controllers noticed a violin case by a routine check.

As the officers open the black case, they see a “Josephus Guarnerius Fecit Cremona”

An exquisite collectors item from the 17th. C., made by the famous Violin Maker Joseph Guarneri.

Customs-Spokesperson, Yvonne Schamber: “Ms. Horigome didn’t declare the violin correctly, and couldn’t provide evidence that it had ever been taxed in the European Union”.

The customs had the violin, that the violinist claims to have purchased 15 years ago for 250.000 Euros in the Far East, valued.

Schamber: “She must now beleatedly pay the Input Value Added Tax for Antiques. The instrument has been impounded as an item of evidence, should Ms. Horigome not deposit a caution, it will stay with us”.

It never rains, it pours: The authorities have instigated a criminal proceeding for attempted Tax Evasion.

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Why would it be a stupid idea? The more people that know about this the better it is for everyone, don't you think?

Filing a law suit against a customs officer who has caught you red handed smuggling and evading tax (max. 10 years jail) is definately a stupid idea, I have to agree with Carl.

I wonder what the comments here would have been if it had been someone like Machold or Axelrod who had been caught.

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1) I do not see that you address the theme of used items.

2) Do you really pay VAT several times for the same item?

1) "For a long list of items there is the reduced Einführumsatzsteuer tariff of 10%. (Ziffer 46, Anlage A zu §10 Abs. 2 und §24 UStG) This includes antique violins (customs tariff # 97 06 00 00 10 “Antique, over 100 year old instrument, made of wood”).

2) No. Once you have paid the Einführumsatzsteuer (input Vat) you have legaly imported it and can bring it in and out as often as you like, because you can prove you have paid the tax: see Bild article (translation above)

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But suppose you sell it to someone else. Does that person have to pay the tax again? I believe that's what Anders is asking.

If you, as a private person sold it on again within the EU, there would be no Value added tax to pay. If I as a violin maker/dealer who is registered for VAT imported it, I would have to first pay the import VAT, have it then as a credit on my VAT account on the 15th of the following month after next, but would have to charge VAT to my customer (and pay this 1:1 to the inland revenue) when I sell it.

Clear as mud, you might say. Surffice to say that everyone has so pay Input VAT upon importing something.

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Strangely if Mrs Horigomes Guarneri has been a car, she might have been exempted from entering France when she became a EU resident (I don't know for Germany). the french custom site states you can avoid paying all taxes upon entering France if:

-you have lived at least 12 months outside europe, and

-you have used the car for at least 6 months before getting EU residency, and

-you have paid all taxes in the country of origin for this car.

they don't say why this is specific to cars. Maybe because it could be seen as an essential tool for working?

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Strangely if Mrs Horigomes Guarneri has been a car, she might have been exempted from entering France when she became a EU resident (I don't know for Germany). the french custom site states you can avoid paying all taxes upon entering France if:

-you have lived at least 12 months outside europe, and

-you have used the car for at least 6 months before getting EU residency, and

-you have paid all taxes in the country of origin for this car.

they don't say why this is specific to cars. Maybe because it could be seen as an essential tool for working?

You enjoy making life complicated, don`t you!

Let me make it simple;

If you buy a grotty ebay violin from Pandah Hound, you will have to pay him for the violin + $70ish for the p&p. When the postman turns up at your doorstep with a cardboard box a forghtnight later, you will have to pay the postman the 10% resp 20% tax, otherwise he won`t give you the violin.

Since you seem to enjoy making things complicated, you should try importing your British car to Austria, that would keep you busy for months.

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The points you cited in post #21 are for all of EU, not just France. There is nothing "peculiar" about France in that regard.

Private planes, boats, campers, etc. are also exempt, in addition to cars. Mull that over a few minutes and get back to us why it makes sense.

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