UK customs screening all mail from Czech Republic for cigarettes, child porn

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Some curious and rather unfortunate news emerged from Great Britain this week - the Czech Republic has been placed on a list of "risk countries" by Her Majesty's Customs, because of the amount of illegal contraband arriving in Czech letters and parcels. The upshot is that all Czech mail to Britain is now being screened, and customers are experiencing delays.

News that all post from the Czech Republic is being screened by Britain was first broadcast on TV Nova on Wednesday. The station reported - erroneously as it turned out - that Britain's Royal Mail was X-raying all post from the Czech Republic. It's actually HM Customs that's doing the X-raying, after spot checks revealed that letters and parcels from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Poland regularly contain cartons of cigarettes, drugs and child pornography. Dita Vaclavikova is the spokeswoman for the Czech Post Office:

"Frankly, both the Czech Post Office and the Royal Mail are relatively innocent parties in all this. We provide a service. If a customer decides to send something he shouldn't, then that's really his problem, or more specifically a problem for the customs officers who find it. Of course we try our best to provide the service that the customer is paying for. But as soon as someone starts sending something he shouldn't, then unfortunately everyone else's post gets delayed, because everything has to be checked."

Dita Vaclavikova confirmed to me that the problem was brought to their attention when customers began complaining of delays when sending letters and parcels to Britain. A standard letter should take 3-4 days to arrive in Britain; some were taking up to twelve.

It emerged this was because the Czech Republic had been placed on an HM Customs blacklist, after random spot checks revealed the contraband. British customs officials are now X-raying every letter, package and parcel arriving from the Czech Republic as a matter of course, although a warrant is needed to actually open mail, which remains private property. Dita Vaclavikova says the situation should improve.

Foto: Archiv Radia Praha
"Of course we try and warn our customers not to send such packages to any country. I mean I think it's pretty logical that you shouldn't send stuff like this through the mail. On the other hand we are trying to give our customers more information, that - for instance - you can't even send cigarettes to another country, because each country has its own customs rules. We hope customers will take this to heart so that Great Britain will take the Czech Republic off the list of "risk countries" and go back to checking packages at random."

It's unclear when this will happen, although the Czech Post Office has proposed to the Royal Mail that they send plain letters which cannot conceivably contain contraband separately, to at least alleviate the delays. An agreement should be signed in a matter of weeks.