Thousands of Cuban Cigars Seized at O'Hare

Contraband arriving from Switzerland, Customs and Border Protection agents say

Monday, Dec 6, 2010  |  Updated 9:00 PM CDT
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People ordering Cuban cigars online from Swiss firms are out of luck as a record number of illegal shipments of the coveted cigars have recently been seized by U.S. customs agents at O'Hare.

Over the last two weeks, Customs and Border Protection agents said they've seized more than 30,000 Cuban cigars, adding to a total of about 70,000 previously seized.

The illegal shipments -- cigars or anything of Cuban origin are illegal because of a U.S. embargo -- arrived from Switzerland, authorities said in a release. Several online retailers in Switzerland sell genuine Cuban cigars and ship them to the United States, in spite of the embargo.

In a Nov. 8 statement on increased security measures, Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano placed a ban on small parcels of more than 16 ounces flown on passenger aircraft. The result has been an increase in European mail arriving on cargo aircraft to Chicago, including the cigars from Switzerland.

David Murphy, Chicago CBP spokesman, said people wonder what becomes of the desirable cigars once they are seized.

"Everyone wants to know what happens to the cigars that are seized," he said.  "According to regulations, CBP officers are required to seize, forfeit and destroy all Cuban cigars and other Cuban imported products. 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."

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations were issued in 1963 in response to hostile actions by the Cuban government. The regulations state no goods or services of Cuban origin may be imported into the United States either directly or through third countries.

It is currently illegal to import Cuban cigars or anything else of Cuban origin without an official license from the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

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