BERN A bizarre case has Swiss and foreigners alike scratching their heads. A hapless German pensioner recently visiting his daughter in Switzerland drove his son-in-law’s Swiss-registered car across the border to go to his daughter’s holiday home in Austria. Stopped at customs, and unable to provide appropriate documentation, Dieter Johann von der Heide was hit with a whopping fine of CHF 17,900 – 10% of the value of the car in customs costs and 19% import tax.
Apparently, there is an EU regulation stating that anyone domiciled in the EU must apply for a customs clearance and registration document before entering the EU with a car that does not have an EU registration. It is a cautionary tale for anyone residing in Switzerland who might wish to allow a friend or relative visiting from the EU to drive their Swiss-registered car across the border – even for a day trip.
There is an exception that allows residents living in Switzerland to enter the country twelve times a year with a foreign-registered car. That may not be much comfort for frontaliers who must rely on the fact that the law is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. A similar Swiss law states that “Persons resident in Switzerland are generally not entitled to use a foreign matriculated vehicle in Switzerland,” although there are exceptions for rental and professional use. Walter Pavel, the communications officer for the Federal Customs Office (AFD) in Bern, said the rationale behind the law is to control automobile smugglers and those trying to avoid paying import duty on a new car.
Since ignorance of the law is no defence, the question remains, who has the obligation to inform car owners residing in Switzerland about the problem of allowing friends or relatives to drive their Swiss-registered car across the border? Representatives of the Swiss Touring Club (TCS) and the Cantonal Service of Automobiles would only say that, if asked, they advise customers to check with the country in question.
Lukas Reimann, a Swiss People’s Party (UDC) MP in St Gallen, said, “What happened to the German pensioner could happen to other innocent parties who have never heard of this law – which is probably the majority of people in Switzerland. People here cross the borders all the time, to shop, to work, to holiday and normally there is no problem. Customs officials on our borders know what to look out for and it isn’t a 73-year-old man on holiday.”
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