Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises shops not to sell luxury goods to Russian tourists

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Enforcement of sanctions by traders has proved murky, although duty-free sales are easier to monitor.

According to the State Department, the sale of sanctioned products must be assessed on a case-by-case basis because in practice it can be difficult to know where the product is going. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Finnish companies have begun to restrict the sale of sanctioned products to Russian tourists.

This is especially true for the sale of duty-free goods from stores, as the purpose of use is easier to follow. Before making a purchase, the merchant must see the customer’s passport. However, this does not violate anti-discrimination laws.

EU sanctions against Russia already prohibit the export of so-called luxury goods, or goods that cost more than 300 euros, to Russia. However, the export of electrical appliances or smartphones up to 750 euros or even cars up to 50,000 euros is exempt.

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The State Department said in an email to Yle that the sale of products under sanctions is prohibited if the product is intended for use in Russia.

According to the ministry, a store should refuse to sell a product if it is clear that the customer intends to export the sanctioned product to Russia.

“The sanctions against Russia prohibit the sale, supply, transfer or export of specifically listed luxury goods, directly or indirectly, to any natural or legal person, entity or body in Russia or for use in Russia,” the Legislative Secretary said. Mikael Ruotsia said.

On the other hand, the ministry also states that in practice it is difficult for a trader to know whether a product is going to Russia or staying in Finland, unless the customer purchases the product tax-free. According to the ministry, the sale of products must therefore be based on a case-by-case basis.

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“This has made the public aware of sanctions. Advice will continue to be available, but it is the responsibility of every company to know its customers, its products and the law,” Ruotsi wrote.

No room for discrimination

Professor of criminal law Tatu Hyttinen of the University of Turku stated that the instructions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the authorities should in principle be followed.

According to Hyttinen, the aim of the guidelines is to implement the sanctions as efficiently as possible and the guidelines do not violate the law. However, certain problems may arise when following the instructions.

“In some situations, the instruction can be problematic with regard to equality and the right not to be discriminated against. The regulation does not change the fact that products that are generally on sale cannot go unsold without valid reason because of citizenship.” Hyttinen noted.

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In Finland, discrimination is prohibited in the Equality Act and the Civil Code, which means that people should not be placed in an unequal position on the basis of their citizenship.

How to enforce?

Hyttinen stressed that enforcement of sanctions is usually the responsibility of the government and not private entities.

An exception is banks, which can be forced by the authorities to restrict money transfers. In most cases, individual stores do not have the ability to find out where the product is going.

“It may be difficult for the trader to inquire about the intended use of the product without inquiring about matters covered by the protection of privacy or resulting in a situation where discrimination could be suspected,” clarifies Hyttinen.

Hyttinen said refusing duty-free sales was more obvious than refusing sales in other situations, as duty-free purchases are not intended to be used in Finland.