The finance ministry embarked on a campaign Monday to combat smuggled alcohol, but by the ministry’s own figures some 60 percent of the contraband comes in through legal channels.
That alcohol passes through the customs inspections valued at a price much lower than the actual one, said the ministry. The practice costs the country about $24 million in uncollected duties, based on figures provided by the Ministerio de Hacienda.
The ministry and the Cámara de Comercio de Costa Rica announced the campaign. Brand name alcohol products in Costa Rica generally have a retail price double of those in the United States.
And the Policia Fiscal said that from January to September the agency confiscated 213,403 containers of alcoholic drinks. These primarily are products being smuggled in from Panamá where prices are lower.
The total lost in customs duty is $40 million a year, said the ministry. The real numbers are difficult to obtain because of the illegality, but the ministry used figures provided by an international monitoring service.
The emphasis of the campaign is to encourage individuals to avoid buying alcohol products that are cut-rate, a sign that they might be smuggled.
Although there are covert distillers and bottlers in Costa Rica, the ministry said that smuggled alcohol is about 91 percent of what is sold illegally. And illegal alcohol represents 21 percent of the total market, it said.
Although the typical image of a smuggler is someone navigating back roads on the way from Panamá, the ministry figures show that the most successful smugglers use a pencil or computer.
They call it subvaloración or the reporting of a cheaper price on quality goods. This practice is not restricted to importers of alcohol, and many other goods come into the country with a false and lower price.
This practice requires either the inattention or complicity of customs agents. The value of a bottle of Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker is easy to determine.
The ministry did not address this point. The ministry also did not mention cigarettes, which are smuggled frequently.
There have been some spectacular evasions. Several years ago, tax police found out that shipping containers of guaro produced by the state-run Fábrica Nacional de Licores were being diverted from tax-free exports to the local market.
Fernando Rodriguez, a vice minister in the Ministerio de Hacienda, however, attributed the illegal alcohol to organized crime and said criminals were infiltrating Costa Rican homes via illegal alcohol.
The ministry urged those purchasing alcohol to do so only at recognized retail outlets that can provide formal receipts or facturas and not at informal outlets where vendors probably do not collect sales tax.
The ministry and chamber announcement coincides with the beginning of the Christmas season where many parties and gathering will feature alcohol.