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Customs to refund €11m after exchange rate goof

Customs authority admitted on Wednesday it had used erroneous exchange rates on foreign currencies for over three years until this past June. Customs had used the rates of a Finnish commercial bank instead of the official rates of the European Central Bank (ECB), Customs explained in a press release.

On account of the mistake, the base value, for customs duty and value-added tax, of the processed imports ended up being too high. The difference to the correct value was between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent. Wrong rates were used for 25 currencies, including the Russian ruble, Chinese RMB, Swedish krona and U.S. dollar.

The incorrect rates had been used in 960,000 transactions. Finnish Customs had charged 11.5 million euros unlawfully. The sums will be refunded to the customers as soon as possible.

Sums exceeding ten euros will be paid automatically, while those below that amount will not be automatically refunded unless customers request a repayment. Interest on the excess payments will also be paid upon demand only.

“It will take long into next year before we get it all done,” commented Jarmo Räikkä, director of customs clearance at Finnish Customs.

Räikkä told national broadcaster Yle that the mistake was noticed when a single customer sent a complaint and asked why the ECB rate had not been used. Upon looking into the matter, customs found out that wrong rates had been applied all over.

He said that the mistakes began when new EU customs legislation took effect in May 2016. The new regulation required that ECB rates should be used. “The people who updated the systems took the rates from the page of a Finnish commercial bank and had presumed they were ECB rates,” Räikkä explained.

Exchange rates published by commercial banks are less advantageous to customers, as the banks add profit margins to their rates. European Central Bank rates are the official base rates for non-euro currencies in the eurozone.