Jump to content
Han.T

Has Anyone Dealt With Customs In Paris/france Before?

Recommended Posts

Han.T

Hey everybody! After a long three weeks, my journey in England and West Europe is finally coming to an end. I will post a separate thread when I get home about all the fossilferous adventures we had with friends from the fossil community abroad! Now the following post is quite a long story so please bear with me.

Earlier today I ran into some problems with customs when taking the train back to London from Gare du Nord. Previously during my trip I purchased a Moroccan partial mosasaur skull along with a Fox Hills Placenticeras (could be Sphenodiscus?) from a good friend in Amsterdam. Along the way I also acquired smaller items like some ammonites (from Normandy and Morocco?) from other parties. I have added some pictures of the items below. All these were withheld by customs there as they "needed to check the legality of the fossils for export". Unfortunately I do have a flight to catch tomorrow and it may take a few weeks for their sanctioned expert to examine and (hopefully) approve the release of the fossils.

I can understand coming from their viewpoint that some of these fossils look quite impressive (I overheard some of the officers exclaiming "c'est magnifique!" when they saw the fossils) so they would want to check if any of them are important specimens that may have been stolen or smuggled illegally. From a collector's point of view, these are pretty common fossils and it feels silly to question these when the biggest European fossil show (St. Marie) is about to happen on their doorstep! It is also quite unfortunate that I did not have any papers or documentation for the fossils due to the informal nature of acquiring these.

The customs officers were actually pretty friendly and apologetic that we had to wait a few hours (and postpone our train as a result) for their paperwork on the fossils to be finished. Other than a 2 page report on the situation and a promise of them getting back within 2-3 weeks, I do not have any other way to know what is happening however.

Anyway, I would like to request the help of anyone here who may know a way to expedite the process with French customs(may know a contact there?) or may be able to coordinate shipping these fossils back (at my cost) with customs should they be released. I do fear that whomever expert they call upon may not actually understand the types and nature of commercially available fossils and I also worry about the logistics of bringing them back. Any advice will be greatly appreciated! :)

Thanks for looking and I hope to post a happier thread about my other adventures when I get home!

post-4611-0-90950700-1434414260_thumb.jpg

post-4611-0-70826400-1434414273_thumb.jpg

post-4611-0-69406800-1434414285_thumb.jpg

post-4611-0-60119700-1434414301_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
caldigger

Wow Han, that is a bummer they are holding your fossils hostage. I certainly hope their "expert" knows enough about fossils to see they are OK to sent on through to you. Do they take care of shipping them to your country? Lets just hope they are a bit better than our customs agents are at properly packaging them for shipment.

I wish you good luck in the safe return of your specimens.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jpc

Man, I wish I could help, but if need be have French customs contact me. I work in a paleo museum in Casper, Wyoming and can vouch with a professional sounding tone... In French even... that that one is certainly from the Fox Hills of SOuth Dakota. I am sending you a Pm with my email. Yes, seriously, tell them you have a professional colleague in the western USA who knows fossils and speaks French.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Manticocerasman

Wow, I never had any problems with the French customs before. I think they will just check the fossils and send them back later.

Did you get all the documents in English? If there are any documents in French that you need to translate I would be happy to help you.

Kevin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Thanks all who offered help and showed their concern! The only documents I left with were in French and it was basically a report on what happened, parties involved and the fossil details (dimensions, weight, etc). I do not think that they will ship the fossils back for me; I will need to find a 3rd party shipping company or otherwise and ship them back at my cost. I feel this situation is just my bad luck but it does raise some concern for trading commercially available fossils within that region as even my ammonites are held. I am hoping that they do release the fossils before the St. Marie show so that I can request the aid of anyone dropping by France to pick them up for me...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
oilshale

There is a French fossil dealer who does a lot of import / export; he might be able to help. You‘ve got a message.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Hey all,

I just wanted to post an update on the situation. So far it has been a month since I left France and no word has been heard from them yet. Not looking so good as the officers there guaranteed me that they will get back within 3 weeks. I have tried calling their office (Brigade de Sûreté du Transmanche BSITM, Tel) every day for the past week or so but no one has answered. Dries from TFF has been so kind to help me try to contact them too - so far he has gotten through but the officer that handled my case was not present.

Calling their main customs HQ, I got through to a person who couldn't understand a word of English; so much for an international hotline! The customer service desk at Gare du Nord station also couldn't understand me either. Its really infuriating trying to cross this first step of contacting someone in their organisation! I don't even know how much help they can be if I do get a hold of someone.

I still have hope that they WILL get back to me eventually, though it may be some time till then...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sseth

Han

That is quite a bummer. I don't know if I told you, but as we left Singapore after meeting up with you, we were also stopped by customs and it was such a long delay that we missed our flights and it caused a big mess. This all happened because of the ammonite I got from Mr. Lee.

It can be very frustrating, I know. I have a few friends that speak french. Let me see if they might be willing to help.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Hey Seth,

Wow, I had no idea you went through so much trouble for that... Singapore customs usually overlooks this kind of thing and in any case it is perfectly fine to import or export fossils here. I hope they offered you some recompense for the delay! Thanks for your kind offer of help, do let me know if you find someone!

Anyway, I am thinking of asking my country's embassy over there for help, or call the French embassy here. Today I tried to call their Customs HQ hotline again and actually connected for once (2nd time now). Unfortunately the lady slammed down the phone the moment she heard me say hello in English! What the heck?! :angry:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jpc

Try calling them and saying Bonjour right off the bat instead of assuming they will be delighted to speak with you in a language they have no desire or skill to speak.

I think the embassy ideas are worth pursuing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Hey all, here is an update on the situation (after over one year finally!):

For a few months after the incident I tried calling their hotlines and sending emails to no avail unfortunately.

Earlier this year in January I decided to pen a polite letter in French with the aid of a friend to send to their Director of Customs in Paris. I also sent the same letter to the Gare du Nord customs office just in case.

It seems they might have forgotten about my case because just a few weeks after sending the letter I received an email from the customs HQ telling me they moved my file to the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris for investigation.

Following that I replied with some invoices I obtained for the purchases/gifts just to show them that they are commercially obtained fossils.

I did not receive any further word until just a couple of days ago when I was informed that they have processed my case with the following email:

Je reviens vers vous pour vous informer des suites du dossier.
L'instruction menée par le parquet du Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris autorise l'administration des douanes à vous proposer un arrangement transactionnel (modalités détaillées ci-dessous).
L'arrangement transactionnel est une alternative amiable proposée préalablement à la voie judiciaire.
Voici les termes de cet arrangement transactionnel:
=> abandon au profit de l'administration des douanes des fossiles en provenance du Maroc.
Tous les fossiles en provenance du Maroc sont prohibés et selon la législation en vigueur ne peuvent sortir de l'état marocain. Aussi leur commercialisation est illégale.
Ceux-ci doivent don être rendus à l'état marocain. Ils ne peuvent donc absolument pas vous être restitués.
=> En revanche, les deux fossiles en provenance de États-Unis et de France pourront vous être restitués.
Nous organiserons ultérieurement les modalités de restitution de ces deux fossiles.
=> L'examen de votre dossier nous conduit à passer-outre à une pénalité. Il n'y aura donc pas d'amende.
Si vous acceptez cet arrangement transactionnel, il vous appartient de signer l'exemplaire de règlement transactionnel en pièce jointe et de me le retourner scanné par retour de mail.
En pièce jointe du présent mail figure le courrier de proposition d'arrangement transactionnel officiel et un exemplaire d'arrangement transactionnel à ratifier.
Si vous refusez le bénéfice de l'arrangement transactionnel, le dossier suivra son cours devant les juridictions compétentes.
*************************************************************
Rough English Translation:

I come to you to inform you of suites folder.

The investigation conducted by the prosecutor of the Court of First Instance of Paris authorizes the customs administration to propose a transactional arrangement (detailed rules below).
The transaction is an amicable arrangement previously proposed alternative to the courts.

Here are the terms of this settlement as:
=> Abandonment to the customs administration of fossils from Morocco.
All the fossils from Morocco
are prohibited by the legislation in force can break the Moroccan state. As their marketing is illegal.
These must be returned to the Moroccan state. So they absolutely can not be returned to you.
=> In contrast, the two fossils from the United States and France will be returned to you.
Later we will organize the return conditions of these fossils.
=> Review your file, the director decided not to impose fines. There will be no fine.
If you agree that settlement, it behooves you to sign a copy of compromise settlement attached and return it to me by return mail scanned.
Attached to this email the proposal Figure mail formal settlement as a settlement as exemplary ratify.

If you refuse the benefit of a settlement, the case will continue before the competent courts.

I must say I find it preposterous that it took them over a year (with little communication) to investigate just a few fossil specimens. Not to mention it is ironic they tell me this on the opening date of the St. Marie show happening right on their doorstep.

My question to you guys is should I just cut my losses and accept the return of the USA and French ammonites? What might happen should I choose to appeal against their decision? I think it is clear that they do not want to return the Moroccan fossils (the mosasaur jaw/teeth, ammonite and some assorted teeth received as a gift) as it is illegal to export those in the first place (can someone confirm this?).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
IonRocks

Hmm. I would be surprised if fossil exports from Morocco were illegal. Stuff comes out of there all the time

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jpc

Hmm. I would be surprised if fossil exports from Morocco were illegal. Stuff comes out of there all the time

That alone does not make it legal. I was always under the understanding that exporting fossils form Morocco is indeed legal. Of course my simple understanding does not make it legal. Might be time to do some internet research... probably in French.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
IonRocks

True.

If it is illegal, their enforcement is certainly poor.

Ah it appears there are some laws on trade of certain items

Morocco's desert southeast is part of a network of biosphere reserves protected by Unesco and a 1970 agreement that prevents the illegal import and export of cultural artefacts in these areas.

Without specifically mentioning fossils, a Moroccan law also prohibits the illicit trade.

-News24 (I do not know about the reliability of this source)

http://m.news24.com/news24/Green/News/Fossil-treasures-at-risk-in-Morocco-desert-town-20141024

So it appears that fossil export is not explicitly illegal, nor legal. The law that prohibits trade likely is along the lines of disallowing cultural artifacts export. This often vague term leads to confusing laws and enforcement.

I would believe that Morocco does allow the trade of fossils not from Unesco areas, but does not define it as legal. With the size of the market they have, removing this from their economy would cause a lot of issues, but saying it is legal may be criticized as well.

France is simply enforcing laws that aren't enforced in Morocco, but exist. Sadly it appears your fossil won't be coming back. Now if you were dealing with Moroccan customs it's likely you'd have no problems.

Edited by IonRocks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

I saw that article too while searching for more information. Here is the 1970 law that was mentioned:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNESCO_Convention_on_the_Means_of_Prohibiting_and_Preventing_the_Illicit_Import,_Export_and_Transfer_of_Ownership_of_Cultural_Property

Morocco is listed as one of the signatories on that list:

http://www.unesco.org/eri/la/convention.asp?KO=13039&language=E

The thing about this law is that it is broad and encompasses all material deemed as "Cultural Property". Seems scary that it is possible to control any type of material from any country on that list no matter how insignificant it is.

Why are they only stopping the Moroccan specimens though? The USA and France is also listed and yet they are offering to return that material?

Who knows, maybe the prosecutor also did a quick google search and found that article too...

My understanding from the rough translation is that the case has not yet fully proceeded through the courts yet? This is just a "deal" they are offering to resolve the case now. The thing is what will happen if I choose to let it proceed?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
IonRocks

I believe they are going off the second Moroccan law mentioned. I can't find it at the moment, but there is a law in Morocco that prohibits trade of ____ (some vague term that may be interpreted to include fossils)

This law in Morocco is disregarded due to how large the fossil industry is there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Johannes

Generally:

It is an actual situation in Europe now. There are two reasons: more and more requests of administrative assistence regarding illegal handling of cultural property (in the definition of the very different states) were forced by other countries to the US and the EU (esp. France, Germany and the now soon post-EU GB). So custom service is oversensitive now. This acting is based on a UNESCO-convention of 1970 and a european legislation (which was passed some years ago, everybody knows (or was able to know, but nobody pleas against it). These both have to be transformed in national laws, as they did in Germany in the moment* (and I'm a little bit involved in this topic on a higher level). Also for a lot of other european states an enforcement is planned (e.g. France).

This is specific on your question: as far as I know, fossil vertebrate remains are illegal to export from morocco**. If you have bought them in Germany, you need evidence, that they were sold in Germany before 2007, this was the year Germany ratificiated the UNESCO convention. You have to show when France have done this. If you did not have the evidence, your Mosasaur-material is definitly lost. For the invertebrates: you need a permit to export them. Blanked papers are not allowed in this case. If you did not have these original papers (or the evidence this material was in France before France have signed the UNESCO convention) these items are lost, too. No chance that you get them back (but in Europe you can try to get a compensation, if you have the bill and are able to proof you have bought this Item.) Or you are able to get the evidence of legal transaction by the seller.

We are still working on this topic for Germany****, and collectors in the rest of Europe (esp. in states which do a kind of re-nationalisation) and the US should be aware, that things can go more complicated in terms of fossils (and minerals and meteorites, too).

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*There was a contribution somewhere about this in TFF. A lot of friends here have helped and signed for the right to collect privately an, much more important, have leaved a well written and serious comment.

edit:

** This law is existing for a long time, but often they did not realized that on the customs. But now they did, and since Nov. 2015 they are working on a more strict version, which will be executed more strictly. I can have a look and name the law***, but there will be an internet portal from the Germany Ministry of External Affairs, which try to give an up-to-date information for all the UNESCO-states

edit II:

***

Dahir No. l-80-341 promulgating Law No. 22-80 concerning the preservation of historic monuments and sites, of inscriptions and of objects of art and antiquity.

Text printed by Unesco CC.87/WS/6

1. Cultural property subject to export control

Classified movables (Art. 31). Movables may be classified or registered where they are of artistic or historic character or of interest to the study of the past or humanities in general (Art. 2(2)). Works of art or antiquities of historic, archaeological or anthropological interest or of
interest to the study of the past
(Arts. 43, 45).
All or part of any material from demolished immovables which were registered or classified (Art. 59). Registration or classification may apply to historic or natural sites, sites of artistic, historic, traditional or scenic character or of interest to the study of the past or the social sciences in general and may include rock carvings and paintings, inscribed stones and monumental, funerary or other inscriptions whatever their age, language, style or form (Art. 2).

2. Type of export control

Prohibition. Authorization may be given for temporary export for purposes of exhibition or study abroad (Arts. 31, 45).

edit III:

****

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/germany-passes-cultural-heritage-legislation-525563

http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=8f87fc85-26a2-4666-a932-9c92f89f5396

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
taj

Well , as said earlier for Morocco , lots of laws , but lots of slack too . You would never had any problem departing from Morocco . You probably were unlucky enough to stumble on some overzealous customs agent from France . Mosasaur jaw does not come from the desert southeast but from the phosphatic deposit around Oued Zem . So not in the scope . As far as I understand , any fossil of specific value for scientific purpose is export prohibited , the others are without restrictions . See where I'm heading ? All then is a matter of discussion and viewpoint .. which can always change ...

Anyway I would advise you to cut your loss and accept the deal ( it can only go downhill from here . Unless of course you have time and energy to play epistolary games with the French Customs and Law department . Could be some fun ). I'm even surprised they bothered following your case for so long .

That coming from a frenchman whose taxes paid for this preposterous case for one year instead of producing something actually useful for people .

Edited by taj

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPS Ammonite

It appears that Morocco wants to allow exports of their common, heavily repaired and non scientifically important fossils while prohibiting export of scientifically important fossils based on poorly written ambiguous laws that talk about artifacts and antiquities.

I would ask the French custom agents for an explanation as to what laws and rules were relied upon for their decisions.

Below are articles 43 and 45 in the Unesco agreement that France and Morocco may be using to prohibit some fossil exports. I see nothing in the articles to definitely prohibit fossil exports. However, a broad liberal interpretation of the terms and slight changes in the translation of the laws into French and English might allow a prohibition for some fossil exports.

PART VI
PROTECTION OF MOVABLE ART OBJECTS AND ANTIQUITIES

ARTICLE 43 - With a view to guaranteeing the conservation of all movable art
objects and antiquities which are of historical, archaeological or anthropological
value to Morocco or which are relevant to the study of the past and
the human sciences in general, it is forbidden to destroy or alter such items.
ARTICLE 45 - The movable items mentioned in Article 43 may not be exported.
However, temporary export licences may be granted, in particular on the
occasion of exhibitions and for purposes of examination and study.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Thank you all for your kind comments, this is a really interesting discussion on the laws in place. I am leaning towards accepting their deal but would like to explore my options because I am good friends with the person that sold me the Mosasaur piece. The fossil was in his shop in Amsterdam for years before I acquired it, I am wondering what kind of documents do I need to obtain from him to submit to the customs?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPS Ammonite

Han, since France wants to send the fossil back to Morocco, have you considered talking to the Morocco officials to see if it is a type of fossil they want back and if it is of a type that Morocco would prohibit exporting from Morocco today. Maybe Morocco could issue some sort of permit to export the fossil to you from France. Since Morocco seems to want to sell fossils to other countries, it might be bad for business if more and more Moroccan fossils are confiscated and not allowed to be exported. Point out to Moroccan authorities that ambiguous and poorly written laws regarding the export and possession of Moroccan fossils will cause fewer people to purchase high-end Moroccan fossils.

Edited by DPS Ammonite

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Coco

Hi,

I didn't reread all the subject, then as French I am just going to make my comment on the mail which you received in French.

The french administration can be very pernickety (and slow !). This mail gives only two solutions : either you accept their offer, or your problem goes to the court. My advice would be to accept their offer by knowing unfortunately that you cannot get back the moroccan fossils.

But I think DPS has a good idea : inform you with the moroccan administration to have their position. If they consider that your fossils can stay outside Morocco, they could make a mail for the french customs and free your situation. But that would not should set too much time because I am afraid that the french customs puts your case in the court if they hasn't any answer "relatively" quickly.

The idea would be to obtain a list of Morocco including the fossils which must stay in Morocco and see if yours are above.

Coco

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
taj

My two cents : this ideas of involving , say , the Moroccan administration , seems a bit unrealistic . You may enter a whole new realm of complexities .

That Moroccan fossils are exported by the thousands and generate revenues for tens of thousands of people in Morocco does not in any way imply that Moroccan administration is actively supporting this .Much more probably a case of live and let live ....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Thank you all for your suggestions and advice! I agree that contacting the Moroccan authorities might open a brand new can of worms...

Most likely I will have to accept their offer but I would like some answers first. I will ask the customs people for an explanation on the laws involved in their decision.

If they do decide to entertain my request I will be sure to share the information with all of you!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Han.T

Hello all,

Here is a quick update on the situation. I sent them an email asking for an explanation of the laws involved and received the following letter (pictures attached below). Unfortunately my understanding of French is very limited and I can't translate the scans properly. I have omitted the part with my personal information but please let me know if there is any more info I need to remove. I believe the letter has reference to the French laws involved (articles 215, 419, 414).

I was also linked to the following articles by the officer in charge:

http://www.unesco.org/new/fr/culture/themes/illicit-trafficking-of-cultural-property

http://www.culturecommunication.gouv.fr/Politiques-ministerielles/Circulation-des-biens-culturels/Legislation-et-reglementation/Contexte-legislatif-et-reglementaire-en-Europe-et-a-l-International

Lastly I was told that the fossils have already been appraised by 2 different authorities.

A favor to ask of those who understand French well enough: Could I please get a rough explanation of what is going on in the letter?

I think ultimately I will have to sign the documents and forfeit the Moroccan fossils, but it will be nice to get some closure on what exactly was involved in my case!

I did a bit of searching and found the following references to the articles mentioned above:

215

414

419

Again I am not able to understand perfectly but I think they are just generic laws in place allowing them to control anything deemed as controllable goods?

post-4611-0-30082500-1467655123_thumb.png

post-4611-0-91114500-1467655128_thumb.png

post-4611-0-29327500-1467655135_thumb.png

Edited by Han.T

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×