Some of you may know that, when I have spare time, I like to spend it behind the lens of a camera, so I was a bit dispirited to see a recent enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) against the iconic New York City photography retailer B&H Photo. I have been a loyal Internet customer of B&H pretty much since the beginning of the Internet, and no trip to NYC by me is complete without stopping by their store to drool over expensive photographic gear that I usually cannot justify buying. Sadly, and according to these charging documents, B&H agreed to pay $275,000 to settle charges that it exported $23,000 of rifle scopes and sighting equipment, classified as ECCN 0A987, between 2009 and 2012.
Given the value of the rifle scopes and sights in question, the $275,000 fine seems rather hefty. BIS no longer routinely reveals whether cases started with a voluntary disclosure, largely, I think, to deflect criticism that the agency treats exporters who make voluntary disclosures more harshly than is warranted, so we do not know whether or not the presence or absence of a voluntary disclosure affected the size of this fine. One possibility, of course, is that the exports came to BIS’s attention through a customs seizure; it was likely that B&H accurately described the exported items as rifle scopes or optical sighting devices and, sooner or later, some customs officer at the Port of New York would have taken action since even a CBP rookie would know that these items require export licenses to most destinations. Even so, it seems likely that it was an innocent violation; a camera retail store in New York City was unlikely to have been aware that these items required licenses.
In all events, B&H has certainly found religion on this issue. A trip to their website revealed that if I tried to buy a rifle scope and entered an address in Afghanistan, the site politely informed me that government restrictions would not permit them to ship that item to that destination. In all events, it was an expensive lesson, and I, for one, hope that it will not force them to raise their prices!