Smuggled cigars were expensive

Penalty is $3,960, cigars are forfeited

Trying to evade customs duty cost a man four times what he would have paid – and then the court ordered the forfeiture of all 240 cigars he had brought from Cuba.

Yosvel Yanel Hernandez, in Cayman on a work permit, pleaded guilty in Summary Court on Tuesday to smuggling and attempting to evade customs duty.

A customs officer in court advised that the duty on cigars is 100 per cent.

The Customs Law sets out a mandatory penalty as the duty plus three times the duty that should have been paid. In addition, the court may impose a fine up to $6,000 and imprisonment up to five years.

Crown Counsel Jenesha Simpson said a local cigar expert had examined the cigars and considered they would cost at least CI$4 each.

That put the value of the cigars at $960, the same as the duty payable. The penalty was three times the amount, or $2,880, for a total of $3,840. Magistrate Grace Donalds added a fine of $120.

Hernandez admitted that, on Sunday, 31 May, at Owen Roberts International Airport, he clandestinely brought into the Cayman Islands goods that were not exempt from payment of customs duty.

He also pleaded guilty to attempting to evade customs duty by concealing the cigars in his luggage.

Mrs. Simpson said customs officers at the airport made certain observations and conducted a thorough check of his luggage as a result. They found a wooden box under a false bottom in one of the bags. In the second bag, cigars were concealed by the use of cardboard.

On his customs declaration form, Hernandez had listed 25 cigars and said he paid $1.

When interviewed, he admitted the cigars were concealed for the purpose of evading duty. He further stated he had paid 240 pesos for them and they were not ‘ringed’.

In court, with the help of an interpreter, Hernandez explained that he intended to use the cigars among friends and they were not for sale. That is why they were not labelled. Without a label he could not sell them commercially. ‘There was no ring on them,’ he said.

Mrs. Simpson pointed out that he could have sold them on the street even if he couldn’t sell them in a shop.

The magistrate imposed the sentence on the smuggling charge and handed down no separate sentence for the second charge.

Hernandez, 40, asked for time to pay the $3,960. The magistrate agreed but told him a local surety would have to sign for him before he could be released.

She also ordered that the cigars be forfeited to the Crown.