Swiss help to clamp down on smugglers in Poland

Border officials pose proudly with impounded goods that are stored in the customs building before being destroyed

Polish border guards are being trained by their Swiss counterparts to crack down on smugglers at the eastern frontier of Europe’s single border area.

This content was published on August 2, 2010 minutes

Switzerland, which signed the Schengen agreement, helps finance vehicles and equipment for Poland’s mobile border police. Although not a member of the European Union, Switzerland contributes to reducing the gap between old and new EU states.

Southeast of Poland, in neighbouring Ukraine, wages are low and products are cheap.

As a result trafficking cigarettes, drugs, pirated copies and people across the border into the Schengen area can be a lucrative trade.

Przemysl is the last large Polish town before the Ukrainian border. Charming little towns are lined up along the main road, a provincial idyll with houses and gardens and neatly dressed children.

What might look like a modest degree of prosperity in western eyes, is perceived as a great luxury in Ukraine.

“For a Ukrainian, the sale of ten successfully smuggled packets of cigarettes in Poland is worth a day’s wages,” explains border police officer Mariusz Fedyk.

Many people even make their living from trafficking goods across.

Mobile police

As elsewhere in the Schengen area, mobile border police officers patrol by car. They operate well beyond the actual customs post.

The proof are the Ukrainian vehicles on the side of the road with bonnets and doors open.

Drug dogs, handled by officers in black uniforms and yellow vests marked Sluzba celna (Border Guard), climb over car seats and sniff everything.

“If our vehicles were equipped so that we could receive all the data entered by the nearby border post immediately, we wouldn’t have to make random checks based on a hunch,” says Woyciech Socha, who is responsible for mobile border policing in the region.

Innocent citizens

“Now, innocent citizens are sometimes searched a second time after the border post, while the smugglers drive by unchecked,” says Socha.

Poland can count on the support of Switzerland for the modernisation and efficiency upgrade of its mobile border service.

The Swiss office in Warsaw that is in charge of allocating the Swiss enlargement contribution is planning to make about SFr3 million ($2.8 million) available. The funds were approved in nationwide vote in Switzerland in 2006.

In an effort to improve the efficiency of the mobile border police, the Polish government proposed a project costing almost SFr3 million to Swiss authorities which evaluated it.


“In this project, some of the money will be spent on suitable vehicles and equipment,” says Dominique Favre, deputy head of the Swiss office in Warsaw.

“But a quarter of the funds will go into training and the cooperation between Polish and Swiss customs officials,” he notes.

Some Polish police officers have already visited their Swiss colleagues in Basel on a trial basis.

“But Switzerland will also benefit,” asserts Jadwiga Zenowicz, deputy head of customs in Przemysl.

She stresses that the rights and intellectual property of Swiss branded products are already protected in the remote southeast of Poland. Cheap black-marketed products and pirated copies are intercepted, and illegally manufactured goods do not reach the Schengen area and thereby not the Swiss markets.

Around 1,200 employees work for the Przemysl customs authorities, around ten per cent of whom are with the mobile border police. Border control is also very important to the Polish state.

“The income from customs duties makes up around a third of Poland’s income,” explains Zenowicz.


Fedyk estimates that currently around 1.7 million confiscated cigarette packets are being stored at the customs post.

The goods are all liquidated, that is incinerated, on a regular basis. Fedyk adds with a chuckle, that there is only person on the border police team who regrets this ― the one smoker among them.

Cigarettes are by far the most commonly smuggled goods, because of a huge profit that can be made with a successful sale on the EU market, one of the largest markets in the world.

In addition the fines and sentences are also lower than for drugs and other offences.

In the days of the Soviet Union, it was mainly alcohol, gold, dollars and TV sets that were smuggled. The only reminders of those times are the old Russian cars, like the Moskvich, queuing up for customs clearance.

“These private vehicles are often used for smuggling cheap or illegally manufactured cigarettes,” says Fredyk.

“In the trucks, on the other hand, we find regular cigarettes of well-known international brands in large quantities.”

Fast clearance

Efficient customs infrastructures pay off not only in the fight against trafficking illegal but also in regular customs clearance.

Because the system in Przemysl is much better equipped than neighbouring ones, many Ukrainians still prefer to drive an hour longer to get across the border more quickly here.

This could be an important asset for the near future. The European football championships will be jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine in 2012.

Alexander Künzle in Przemysl, (Adapted from German by Urs Geiser)

Smuggling through Poland

Poland’s Schengen land border extends to 1,155 km – Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave is in the north, Belarus lies east and Ukraine to the southeast.

While the border to Belarus permits very little smuggling because of the political situation, illegal activities on the Ukrainian border are much more frequent.

Of the total of 16 regions in Poland, four are on the Schengen border. These will benefit from the Swiss enlargement project.

Poland is a popular transit country for smuggled art objects.

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Swiss enlargement contribution

As part of a second set of bilateral treaties with Brussels, non-EU member Switzerland pledged SFr1 billion ($950 million) to the ten new EU member states mainly in eastern Europe.

Swiss voters endorsed the government plan in a nationwide vote in 2006.

Almost half the funding is going to Poland for infrastructure and security projects.

Bulgaria and Romania which joined the EU in 2007 also benefit from Swiss funds.

The Swiss contribution is part of efforts to reduce social and economic disparities in the enlarged EU and to ensure security, stability and prosperity throughout the continent.

Switzerland’s contribution is implemented autonomously and is not part of the EU’s cohesion policy.

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