Officers seize thousands of Cuban cigars at O’Hare

New shipping regulations put in place by the Department of Homeland Security led to the seizure of 30,000 Cuban cigars at O’Hare International Airport, which were flown in from Switzerland, U.S. Customs officials said Monday.

Chicago Customs and Border Protection officers have been “under siege” over the past two weeks as Swiss companies are now forced to ship packages on cargo planes rather than passenger jets, officials said.

Seventy-thousand more cigars are sitting in Customs’ storage as officers work their way through piles of boxes containing the illegal shipments, which arrived at the airport over the past two weeks, said Brian Bell, a Customs spokesman.

U.S. Customs officers at O'Hare International Airport have seized 30,000 Cuban cigars over the past two weeks.

U.S. Customs officers at O'Hare International Airport have seized 30,000 Cuban cigars over the past two weeks.

On Nov. 8 the Department of Homeland Security banned shipments of small packages weighing over 16 ounces on passenger flights, about a week after two explosive packages on a Chicago-bound flight from Yemen were intercepted.

“The Swiss post had no way to move their mail. They had to contract on cargo planes, so they stockpiled until they could get flights into the Unites States,” Bell said. “All the sudden there are all these yellow and brown boxes and they are all cigars.”

Customs officials said before the new regulations they would typically seize a few boxes of cigars a week.

About 700 shipments have been seized over the past two weeks, with 2,000 more waiting to be processed, Bell said.

“They just kept coming and coming,” Bell said. “The next day rolls around and there are more and more of them.”

The “popular contraband” will be destroyed in an industrial incinerator, he said.

Officials said many Swiss online retailers have statements on their websites stating that they have no problem shipping the Cuban cigars to the United States.

“(Swiss) individuals who were buying them from Cuba and would take 100 or 200 orders to the post office,” Bell said. “Now they had to wait to get space on a cargo flight once their order piles up.”

Bell said he researched the prices of some of the seized cigars, which ranged from $10 up to $55 apiece.

“Our officers stationed at CBP mail facilities routinely discover and seize a variety of contraband arriving from all over the world, but this is the first time in Chicago we have seen this level of activity involving illegal cigars,” said David Murphy, Chicago BDP Director of Field Operations.

The U.S. government banned the importation of Cuban goods or services in 1963 under the Trade with the Enemy Act, according to Customs officials.

“Prior to November 8, nine out of 10 times you were flying with postage on your flight,” Bell said.

Letter class mail is still shipped on passenger flights, as long as the parcels weigh less than 16 ounces.

“If we have a company purchasing the cigars, we will investigate them,” Bell said. “We are definitely putting a hurt on a couple companies.”

source: dailyherald.com

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