Serving the Cargo Industry

since 1972


The Official Cargo Directories Serving the USA,

Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean

Published Annually

GUIDELINES IN THE EVENT OF CUSTOMS OR OTHER GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION OR CLAIM OF OWNERSHIP TO VALUABLE IMPORTS

By Carl Soller
Soller Law Intl

For more than 30 years, I have advised auction houses, galleries, collectors, museums, and importers and buyers and sellers of jewelry, personal items, antiquities, art and pre-Columbian objects and other valuable imported material regarding the pitfalls of U.S. and foreign Government restrictions, particularly in relation to objects that have been imported into the United States or have a non-U.S. origin. The law is often misunderstood, not only by the private sector but also by Government officials who are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the laws relating to the purchase and sale of antiquities, pre-Columbian art, and other valuable objects are properly enforced.

I. INVESTIGATIONS – WEIGHING YOUR OPTIONS

APPEARANCE OF AN AUTHORIZED GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: U.S. CUSTOMS, FBI, OR OTHER GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL

If you or another employee of your company is approached by any Government official investigating procedures or other activity involving the sale of an object, your first response should be to listen to what that the Agent has to say and then to politely suggest that before any further discussion, you are obligated to speak to your attorney because of “rules in place by our Corporation Guidelines.”

A. WHAT’S NEXT?

The following analysis should be done before or at the same time as you contact your legal advisor:

  • WHO IS CONDUCTING THE INVESTIGATION?
  • WHAT DOCUMENTS HAVE THEY REQUESTED?
  1. Was an Administrative Summons issued?
  2. Were the records requested on a voluntarily basis?
  3. Are they pressing for an immediate review of the records?

II. DETERMINE WHAT PROBLEMS MAY ACCRUE BECAUSE OF DIVULGING REQUESTED RECORDS

  1. Has there been a review of the records to ensure that all documents relating to the import, purchase or sale are properly maintained? And is there an internal policy relating to appropriate documentation to be produced upon sale or consignment?
  2. Identify the problems the records would reflect if reviewed by Government officials that could result in a potential claim for return of the article. (All the above questions should, if possible, be answered together with your attorney.)

III. DO I COOPERATE WITH THE INVESTIGATION?

  1. Cooperation is usually only an alternative after all the questions in “I” and “II” above have been adequately answered.
  2. If, after that analysis, it appears that the question is routine, and would not result in any adverse action by the Government no matter what your response, then cooperation is probable.
  3. If the questions clearly “relate to issues that could result in a seizure,” then any further interaction should be between “the Government official” and your attorney.

IV. WHAT CRITERIA EXISTS FOR OPPOSING REQUESTED INFORMATION?

  1. In all instances, you should be aware that any Government seizure, removing the object from your custody, will make your attempt to retrieve the object more expensive and less probable.
  2. Normally, the Government will be unable to obtain possession of the object unless a search warrant or some similar Court order is obtained. In most other instances, the Government would only be permitted to remove the object if you voluntarily agree to its removal.
  3. If it is agreed to allow the Government, with your permission, to take an object, an agreement must be prepared whereby the Government is responsible for any damage that may occur as well as a time limit being set for either the return of the object or a “legal” seizure being made.
  4. The determination as to whether to resist almost always mandates a risk analysis:

How much is the object worth?

What is the economic cost of resisting the claim?

Is there a benefit in the future for agreeing not to resist a claim?

V. AM I PROPERLY PREPARED?

  1. An analysis of the possible results of the investigation should be fully completed prior to any documentation or information being supplied to a Government claim.
  2. All information regarding the Government’ s investigation should be obtained, if possible, prior to disclosing any documentation or information.
  3. All persons having any knowledge or involvement should be identified and interviewed prior to disclosing any information to the Government.
  4. If a determination is made to fully cooperate, all records should be properly organized and described so that the Government can identify the item.
  5. Intermediate positions should be considered where full opposition or full cooperation may be inappropriate.

The three (3) most common documents used by the Government to obtain information:

  1. Administrative Summons
  2. A Search Warrant
  3. Subpoena

Carl R. Soller, Customs, International Cargo and Regulatory Compliance Attorney is counsel to companies engaged in all elements of the import/export supply chain and a recognized expert in his practice areas.  He and his firm concentrate their International, Regulatory and Cargo Practice in all business and regulatory matters on a nationwide basis.  He offers advice on supply chain security and its related Government Regulations to the Cargo Community as well as advice and a vast range of assistance to importers and exporters of all kinds of consumer goods.  He can be reached at (516) 812-6650 or

Comments are closed.