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EU ruling may bring a toast from happy Irish drinkers FEW European Court judgments have been as widely anticipated as next Thursday's ruling on a case about a group of Dutch wine enthusiasts. But Irish consumers who hope the Joustra case will open the way to dirt-cheap Latvian cigarettes and booze being imported through the internet at low tax rates may yet be disappointed. At the centre of the case, referred to the Court in Luxembourg by the Dutch courts and government, is the question of the 1992 EU Directive that "duty is to be charged in the Member State of purchase if the goods are for personal use and transported by the purchaser". Mr Joustra is the organiser of a group of 70 Dutch oenophiles who call themselves the Cercle des Amis du Vin (the Friends of Wine Circle). Once a year he organises the transport of a consignment of wine from France to the Netherlands. A Dutch transport company delivers the goods to him, and he then delivers it to the other members of the group. Just like the famous "booze cruise", no member of the group receives more than 90 litres - all of which is for personal consumption - while Mr Joustra does not make any profit. In 1997 Mr Joustra was charged ?906.20 in customs duty for 1,368 litres of still wine and 144 litres of sparkling wine - 2,016 bottles in all. He appealed all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court, which in turn referred to a previous European Court ruling, colourfully known as The Man in Black case. In this case the court ruled the 1992 home country excise duty exemption did not apply where a commercial agent arranged the transport of goods for a fee. In this case it was from Luxembourg. The European Court was asked to rule on whether the exemption from home country excise duty applies if an individual purchases goods for his own personal use - and the personal use of others - and arranges for them to be transported by a transport company. Last December Advocate-General Francis Jacobs stated that the goods imported by Mr Joustra for his personal use should be subject only to excise duty in France. But the wine imported on behalf of others should fall under a different provision of the 1992 Directive - Dutch excise duty was payable, minus the amount of French duty already paid. If the Court follows his advice next Thursday, Irish consumers hoping to import cigarettes, alcohol, perfume and any other items on which excise duty is payable from countries such as France or Latvia may find that they will be able to do so as individuals, within limits.

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