The Azerbaijani customs body's recent post about the seizure of a traveler's clothing and accessories has been described as both comical and outrageous by social media users.
On March 23, Azerbaijan's State Customs Committee reported on their Facebook page that "undeclared brand clothes'' had been found and confiscated. They attached pictures of the goods, which included clothes, shoes, bags, a watch, and jewelry. The Committee stated that the goods belonged to an Azerbaijani traveler arriving at Baku's Heydar Aliyev International Airport from Istanbul. The traveler was reportedly trying to leave the customs zone without declaring any of their purchases.
It was a substantial assortment of items, but to all appearances, they were the fruit of a shopping spree meant for personal, not commercial, use.
The post promptly attracted a mix of jokes and anger. "Customs officials, discovering sandals brought to the country, prevented a large amount of damage to the economy of Azerbaijan," one user commented sarcastically below the post.
"Are you saying that we can't buy anything from abroad for our personal use? What a shame!" another wrote.
The Customs Committee replied to user comments by reminding them of the relevant regulations: "According to a relevant decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, a person can bring in goods with a total value equivalent to 800 USD to the customs territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan once every calendar month for personal consumption. Anything exceeding that amount must be declared to the customs authority."
This regulation dates back to 2020, and it sparked criticism back then too. The threshold for the value of goods that can go unclaimed was reduced from $1,500 to $800 for goods physically purchased abroad and from $1,000 to $300 for goods purchased via the internet from abroad.
Anything exceeding those amounts is subject to a customs fee in the amount of 36 percent of the goods' value.
Local experts said at the time they thought the move was an attempt to prevent the flow of foreign currency out of the country, and that the result would be that Azerbaijanis would be forced to buy goods locally at higher prices.
In a Facebook post, lawyer Khalid Aghali recalled a recent European Court of Human Rights decision in favor of two foreigners who had large amounts of money confiscated by Azerbaijani customs officials in the early 2010s. According to the 2021 decision, the authorities broke the law by giving the travelers only two options -- face criminal charges or surrender their money to Azerbaijan's state budget (the applicants chose the latter) -- while they could have simply fined the travelers. The ECHR ruled that Azerbaijan must return the confiscated money.
"The decision showed that they [the applicants] were surrounded by a series of illegalities at Azerbaijani customs -- their money was taken illegally, [and] they were forced to write an application to surrender their money under pressure," Aghali wrote.
"The result of the 'vigilance' of our customs officials were embarrassment, legal expenses for the government, and the trouble of correspondence with the European Court."