View all text of Part III [§ 1481 - § 1529]

§ 1509.
Examination of books and witnesses
(a)
Authority
In any investigation or inquiry conducted for the purpose of ascertaining the correctness of any entry, for determining the liability of any person for duty, fees and taxes due or duties, fees and taxes which may be due the United States, for determining liability for fines and penalties, or for insuring compliance with the laws of the United States administered by the United States Customs Service, the Secretary (but no delegate of the Secretary below the rank of district director or special agent in charge) may—
(1)
examine, or cause to be examined, upon reasonable notice, any record (which for purposes of this section, includes, but is not limited to, any statement, declaration, document, or electronically generated or machine readable data) described in the notice with reasonable specificity, which may be relevant to such investigation or inquiry, except that—
(A) if such record is required by law or regulation for the entry of the merchandise (whether or not the Customs Service required its presentation at the time of entry) it shall be provided to the Customs Service within a reasonable time after demand for its production is made, taking into consideration the number, type, and age of the item demanded; and
(B) if a person of whom demand is made under subparagraph (A) fails to comply with the demand, the person may be subject to penalty under subsection (g);
(2)
summon, upon reasonable notice—
(A)
the person who—
(i) imported, or knowingly caused to be imported, merchandise into the customs territory of the United States, or a vehicle producer whose good is subject to a claim of preferential tariff treatment under the USMCA (as defined in section 4502 of this title),
(ii) exported merchandise, or knowingly caused merchandise to be exported, to a USMCA country (as defined in section 4502 of this title) or to Canada during such time as the United States-Canada Free-Trade Agreement is in force with respect to, and the United States applies that Agreement to, Canada,
(iii) transported or stored merchandise that was or is carried or held under customs bond, or knowingly caused such transportation or storage, or
(iv) filed a declaration, entry, or drawback claim with the Customs Service;
(B) any officer, employee, or agent of any person described in subparagraph (A);
(C) any person having possession, custody or care of records relating to the importation or other activity described in subparagraph (A); or
(D) any other person he may deem proper;
to appear before the appropriate customs officer at the time and place within the customs territory of the United States specified in the summons (except that no witness may be required to appear at any place more than one hundred miles distant from the place where he was served with the summons), to produce records, as defined in subsection (d)(1)(A), and to give such testimony, under oath, as may be relevant to such investigation or inquiry; and
(3) take, or cause to be taken, such testimony of the person concerned, under oath, as may be relevant to such investigation or inquiry.
(b)
Regulatory audit procedures
(1) In conducting a regulatory audit under this section (which does not include a quantity verification for a customs bonded warehouse or general purpose foreign trade zone), the Customs Service auditor shall provide the person being audited, in advance of the audit, with a reasonable estimate of the time to be required for the audit. If in the course of an audit it becomes apparent that additional time will be required, the Customs Service auditor shall immediately provide a further estimate of such additional time.
(2) Before commencing an audit, the Customs Service auditor shall inform the party to be audited of his right to an entry conference at which time the purpose will be explained and an estimated termination date set. Upon completion of on-site audit activities, the Customs Service auditor shall schedule a closing conference to explain the preliminary results of the audit.
(3) Except as provided in paragraph (5), if the estimated or actual termination date for an audit passes without the Customs Service auditor providing a closing conference to explain the results of the audit, the person being audited may petition in writing for such a conference to the officer designated pursuant to regulations, who, upon receipt of such a request, shall provide for such a conference to be held within 15 days after the date of receipt.
(4) Except as provided in paragraph (5), the Customs Service auditor shall complete the formal written audit report within 90 days following the closing conference unless the officer designated pursuant to regulations provides written notice to the person being audited of the reason for any delay and the anticipated completion date. After application of any exemption contained in section 552 of title 5, a copy of the formal written audit report shall be sent to the person audited no later than 30 days following completion of the report.
(5) Paragraphs (3) and (4) shall not apply after the Customs Service commences a formal investigation with respect to the issue involved.
(6)
(A) If during the course of any audit concluded under this subsection, the Customs Service identifies overpayments of duties or fees or over-declarations of quantities or values that are within the time period and scope of the audit that the Customs Service has defined, then in calculating the loss of revenue or monetary penalties under section 1592 of this title, the Customs Service shall treat the overpayments or over-declarations on finally liquidated entries as an offset to any underpayments or underdeclarations also identified on finally liquidated entries, if such overpayments or over-declarations were not made by the person being audited for the purpose of violating any provision of law.
(B) Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to authorize a refund not otherwise authorized under section 1520 of this title.
(c)
Service of summons

A summons issued pursuant to this section may be served by any person designated in the summons to serve it. Service upon a natural person may be made by personal delivery of the summons to him. Service may be made upon a domestic or foreign corporation or upon a partnership or other unincorporated association which is subject to suit under a common name, by delivering the summons to an officer, or managing or general agent, or to any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process. The certificate of service signed by the person serving the summons is prima facie evidence of the facts it states on the hearing of an application for the enforcement of the summons. When the summons requires the production of records, such records shall be described in the summons with reasonable specificity.

(d)
Special procedures for third-party summonses
(1)
For purposes of this subsection—
(A)
The term “records” includes those—
(i) required to be kept under section 1508 of this title; or
(ii) regarding which there is probable cause to believe that they pertain to merchandise the importation of which into the United States is prohibited.
(B) The term “summons” means any summons issued under subsection (a) of this section which requires the production of records or the giving of testimony relating to records. Such term does not mean any summons issued to aid in the collection of the liability of any person against whom an assessment has been made or judgment rendered.
(C)
The term “third-party recordkeeper” means—
(i) any customhouse broker, unless such customhouse broker is the importer of record on an entry;
(ii) any attorney; and
(iii) any accountant.
(2)
If—
(A) any summons is served on any person who is a third-party recordkeeper; and
(B) the summons requires the production of, or the giving of testimony relating to, any portion of records made or kept of the transactions described in section 1508 of this title of any person (other than the person summoned) who is identified in the description of the records contained in such summons;
then notice of such summons shall be given to any persons so identified within a reasonable time before the day fixed in the summons as the day upon which such records are to be examined or testimony given. Such notice shall be accompanied by a copy of the summons which has been served and shall contain directions for staying compliance with the summons under paragraph (5)(B) of this subsection.
(3) Any notice required under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall be sufficient if such notice is served in the manner provided in subsection (b) of this section upon the person entitled to notice, or is mailed by certified or registered mail to the last known address of such person.
(4)
Paragraph (2) of this subsection shall not apply to any summons—
(A) served on the person with respect to whose liability for duties, fees, or taxes the summons is issued, or any officer or employee of such person; or
(B) to determine whether or not records of the transactions described in section 1508 of this title of an identified person have been made or kept.
(5)
Notwithstanding any other law or rule of law, any person who is entitled to notice of a summons under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall have the right—
(A) to intervene in any proceeding with respect to the enforcement of such summons under section 1510 of this title; and
(B)
to stay compliance with the summons if, not later than the day before the day fixed in the summons as the day upon which the rec­ords are to be examined or testimony given—
(i) notice in writing is given to the person summoned not to comply with the summons; and
(ii) a copy of such notice not to comply with the summons is mailed by registered or certified mail to such person and to such office as the Secretary may direct in the notice referred to in paragraph (2) of this subsection.
(6)
No examination of any records required to be produced under a summons as to which notice is required under paragraph (2) of this subsection may be made—
(A) before the expiration of the period allowed for the notice not to comply under paragraph (5)(B) of this subsection, or
(B) if the requirements of such paragraph (5)(B) have been met, except in accordance with an order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction authorizing examination of such records or with the consent of the person staying compliance.
(7) The provisions of paragraphs (2) and (5) of this subsection shall not apply with respect to any summons if, upon petition by the Secretary, the court determines, on the basis of the facts and circumstances alleged, that there is reasonable cause to believe the giving of notice may lead to attempts to conceal, destroy, or alter records relevant to the examination, to prevent the communication of information from other persons through intimidation, bribery, or collusion, or to flee to avoid prosecution, testifying, or production of records.
(e)

The Customs Service shall identify and publish a list of the records or entry information that is required to be maintained and produced under subsection (a)(1)(A).

(f)
Recordkeeping compliance program
(1)
In general

After consultation with the importing community, the Customs Service shall by regulation establish a recordkeeping compliance program which the parties listed in section 1508(a) of this title may participate in after being certified by the Customs Service under paragraph (2). Participation in the recordkeeping compliance program by recordkeepers is voluntary.

(2)
Certification
A recordkeeper may be certified as a participant in the recordkeeping compliance program after meeting the general recordkeeping requirements established under the program or after negotiating an alternative program suited to the needs of the recordkeeper and the Customs Service. Certification requirements shall take into account the size and nature of the importing business and the volume of imports. In order to be certified, the recordkeeper must be able to demonstrate that it—
(A) understands the legal requirements for recordkeeping, including the nature of the records required to be maintained and produced and the time periods involved;
(B) has in place procedures to explain the recordkeeping requirements to those employees who are involved in the preparation, maintenance, and production of required records;
(C) has in place procedures regarding the preparation and maintenance of required records, and the production of such records to the Customs Service;
(D) has designated a dependable individual or individuals to be responsible for recordkeeping compliance under the program and whose duties include maintaining familiarity with the recordkeeping requirements of the Customs Service;
(E) has a record maintenance procedure approved by the Customs Service for original records, or, if approved by the Customs Service, for alternative records or recordkeeping formats other than the original records; and
(F) has procedures for notifying the Customs Service of occurrences of variances to, and violations of, the requirements of the recordkeeping compliance program or the negotiated alternative programs, and for taking corrective action when notified by the Customs Service of violations or problems regarding such program.
(g)
Penalties
(1)
“Information” defined

For purposes of this subsection, the term “information” means any record, statement, declaration, document, or electronically stored or transmitted information or data referred to in subsection (a)(1)(A).

(2)
Effects of failure to comply with demand
Except as provided in paragraph (4), if a person fails to comply with a lawful demand for information under subsection (a)(1)(A) the following provisions apply:
(A) If the failure to comply is a result of the willful failure of the person to maintain, store, or retrieve the demanded information, such person shall be subject to a penalty, for each release of merchandise, not to exceed $100,000, or an amount equal to 75 percent of the appraised value of the merchandise, whichever amount is less.
(B) If the failure to comply is a result of the negligence of the person in maintaining, storing, or retrieving the demanded information, such person shall be subject to a penalty, for each release of merchandise, not to exceed $10,000, or an amount equal to 40 percent of the appraised value of the merchandise, whichever amount is less.
(C)
In addition to any penalty imposed under subparagraph (A) or (B) regarding demanded information, if such information related to the eligibility of merchandise for a column 1 special rate of duty under title I, the entry of such merchandise—
(i) if unliquidated, shall be liquidated at the applicable column 1 general rate of duty; or
(ii) if liquidated within the 2-year period preceding the date of the demand, shall be reliquidated, notwithstanding the time limitation in section 1514 or 1520 of this title, at the applicable column 1 general rate of duty;
except that any liquidation or reliquidation under clause (i) or (ii) shall be at the applicable column 2 rate of duty if the Customs Service demonstrates that the merchandise should be dutiable at such rate.
(3)
Avoidance of penalty
No penalty may be assessed under this subsection if the person can show—
(A) that the loss of the demanded information was the result of an act of God or other natural casualty or disaster beyond the fault of such person or an agent of the person;
(B) on the basis of other evidence satisfactory to the Customs Service, that the demand was substantially complied with; or
(C) the information demanded was presented to and retained by the Customs Service at the time of entry or submitted in response to an earlier demand.
(4)
Penalties not exclusive
Any penalty imposed under this subsection shall be in addition to any other penalty provided by law except for—
(A) a penalty imposed under section 1592 of this title for a material omission of the demanded information, or
(B) disciplinary action taken under section 1641 of this title.
(5)
Remission or mitigation

A penalty imposed under this section may be remitted or mitigated under section 1618 of this title.

(6)
Customs summons

Nothing in this subsection shall limit or preclude the Customs Service from issuing, or seeking the enforcement of, a customs summons.

(7)
Alternatives to penalties
(A)
In general
When a recordkeeper who—
(i) has been certified as a participant in the recordkeeping compliance program under subsection (f); and
(ii) is generally in compliance with the appropriate procedures and requirements of the program;
does not produce a demanded record or information for a specific release or provide the information by acceptable alternative means, the Customs Service, in the absence of willfulness or repeated violations, shall issue a written notice of the violation to the recordkeeper in lieu of a monetary penalty. Repeated violations by the recordkeeper may result in the issuance of penalties and removal of certification under the program until corrective action, satisfactory to the Customs Service, is taken.
(B)
Contents of notice
A notice of violation issued under subparagraph (A) shall—
(i) state that the recordkeeper has violated the recordkeeping requirements;
(ii) indicate the record or information which was demanded; and
(iii) warn the recordkeeper that future failures to produce demanded records or information may result in the imposition of monetary penalties.
(C)
Response to notice

Within a reasonable time after receiving written notice under subparagraph (A), the recordkeeper shall notify the Customs Service of the steps it has taken to prevent a recurrence of the violation.

(D)
Regulations

The Secretary shall promulgate regulations to implement this paragraph. Such regulations may specify the time periods for compliance with a demand for information and provide guidelines which define repeated violations for purposes of this paragraph. Any penalty issued for a recordkeeping violation shall take into account the degree of compliance compared to the total number of importations, the nature of the demanded records and the recordkeeper’s cooperation.

(June 17, 1930, ch. 497, title IV, § 509, 46 Stat. 733; June 25, 1948, ch. 646, § 26, 62 Stat. 990; Pub. L. 91–271, title III, § 301(n), June 2, 1970, 84 Stat. 289; Pub. L. 95–410, title I, § 105, Oct. 3, 1978, 92 Stat. 889; Pub. L. 99–570, title III, § 3117, Oct. 27, 1986, 100 Stat. 3207–84; Pub. L. 103–182, title II, § 205(b), title VI, § 615, Dec. 8, 1993, 107 Stat. 2094, 2175; Pub. L. 104–295, § 3(a)(1), (10), Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3515, 3516; Pub. L. 107–210, div. A, title III, § 382, Aug. 6, 2002, 116 Stat. 992; Pub. L. 116–113, title II, § 209(b), Jan. 29, 2020, 134 Stat. 52.)