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Sailor's boat confiscated for carrying cigars

by Lee Mylchreest on 27 Apr 2013
CUBAN COHIBA, the real thing .. .
Roving cruising sailors, be careful what you carry and be careful what you sign in unfamiliar ports. One American sailor has had his sailing boat confiscated because he was carrying some cigars on board.

The shocked sailor, Jeff Southworth, a retired engineer and a friend were sailing their 46ft boat the Janice Ann towards Puerto Rico when they were stopped a few nautical miles off shore by local police, Customs and Border Protection officers. They were instructed to dock the boat so that they could be searched.

They complied with the request, but when the officers found 33 boxes of cigars below decks they handcuffed Southworth, presumably thinking they were Cuban. Violating the Cuban embargo makes Americans subject to civil and criminal penalties, but Southworth maintains that the cigars were cheap Dominican imitations, which he bought as gifts for friends.

(It is well known that fake Cuban cigars are sold in the Domican Republic by beach vendors. So-called CUBAN COHIBA cigars are sold to tourists anywhere from Punta Cana to Sosua/Cabarete.)

The Puerto Ricon officials then decided to pursue what is called a 'civil asset forfeiture', which allows authorities to seize property without proving a crime. The officers gave him an 'Assent to Forfeiture' form listing the 33 cigar boxes. Southworth signed the form, but his shock increased when he realised that it was not the cigars only that were to be forfeited, but also the Janice Ann, his $90,000 yacht and the $2000 cash he was carrying on board.

The law is, apparently, curious in this respect. All prosecutors have to do is prove that the sailing boat was an 'instrument of illegal activity' in order to confiscate the boat.

(President John F. Kennedy enacted the Cuban embargo in an attempt to hasten the demise of the communist regime. Individuals can face civil and criminal penalties, including jail time for serious violations of the embargo.)

Insisting that he had done nothing wrong, Southworth was then told by customs agents that a 'cigar expert' would confirm if the cigars were Cuban or otherwise.

He was given an appointment to meet with the 'cigar expert' at the Customs and Border Protection office, but, even though he waited for hours, no expert ever turned up.

He claimed to local news outlet 'The Daily Caller' that he had not slept in 40 hours or eaten in 15 hours. 'I think my civil liberties have been completely walked over,' he said.

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