Anti-smuggling measure gets first OK with 45 affirmative votes

Lawmakers have approved on first reading an update to the nation’s anti-smuggling law that lowered the threshold for criminal penalties to goods worth $10,000. The previous amount was $50,000. The bill, No. 19.407, is part of the administration’s effort to reduce tax and other types of fraud. Final passage is likely later this week.

The bill also calls for prison of from three to 10 years for anyone who brings goods into the country illegally when they might affect the health of citizens. That is a direct effort against the long-running stream of illegal medicines that come in from Nicaragua.

The prison penalty also is for anyone who might jeopardize the health of animals, plants, the environment or the national security.

The measure received 45 favorable votes Monday. Even though this was a favorite bill of the administration, the time to approve it was some 10 months.

The bill also contains penalties of from five to 15 years for anyone who uses violence to avoid discovery of smuggled goods or who uses a vehicle that has been modified to avoid customs inspections.

The jail terms are in addition to fines that may be two times the estimated value of the smuggled goods.

The bill was characterized as lowering the bar to penalize small-scale smuggling, called contrabando hormiga in Spanish.

The measure was watered down from the original submission which called for fines five times the value of the smuggled goods.

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