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US exporters and their freight forwarders are likely to come under increased regulatory scrutiny after Florida-based freight forwarder Access USA Shipping confessed to export violations.
The company was ordered to pay $27m in fines following an admission to the US department of commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) that it had committed around 150 export violations.
After the revelations, secretary of state for commerce Wilbur Ross promised “new energy to the enforcement of our trade laws”.
Access reached a settlement with BIS over 129 counts of evasion, 17 of exporting, or attempting to export, “crime control” items between April 2011 and January 2013, and a further four counts of exporting, or attempting to export, to entities sanctioned by BIS, shipments including weapons parts.
In illuminating detail, BIS described the extraordinary lengths the forwarder took to secure export shipments for non-US customers.
BIS said Access routinely undervalued, misrepresented, and evaded regulatory requirements for items intended for export using many different schemes.
In some examples, weapons parts were variously listed as “tools”, “fishing tools and spare parts”, “tailoring tools” and even “toy accessories”.
The BIS filing said: “At all times, Access knew of the regulations and its export control compliance obligations… and received extensive information from the US government and other sources.”
On several occasions, BIS and other agencies conducted outreach visits to Access, including with then-owner and chief executive Eric Baird.
It was said the violations were committed despite protests from some of Access’s senior staff.
In emails to Mr Baird in September 2011, Access’s then chief technology officer acknowledged that the company had, and continued to, engage in violations of the regulations.
He wrote: “I will not be a party to [undervaluation]. I know we are doing it now, I know we have the means to avoid doing it. I know we are WILLINGLY AND INTENTIONALLY breaking the law.”
BIS said Access had provided foreign customers with a US address and warehouse space for items purchased from US merchants that were ultimately intended for export. In so doing, it allowed the overseas customers to conceal from US merchants the final destination of the goods, allowing the goods to avoid security processes.
Furthermore, the forwarder had offered a “personal shopper” programme that allowed customers to purchase goods from merchants that would not accept overseas payments through Access.
According to BIS, customers would supply a shopping list to Access, which would then purchase the items with credit cards or PayPal accounts belonging to Mr Baird.
“At times, shipments were delivered to the homes of Access employees to ensure the US merchant would not be misled to believe that Access was not involved in the transaction,” said the BIS filing.
To avoid detection by government and law enforcement, Access would also alter and remove merchant invoices, exporting items without regard for its export control and compliance obligations.
On one occasion a BIS agent met with an Access employee for two hours, providing written and oral information on the regulations and export control lists, including BIS’s entity list.
“Access understood this information, but either ignored it and its compliance obligations, or abandoned initial and limited compliance steps,” summed up the filing.