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Six Countries Owe Back Taxes, EU Court Rules

(CN) - A European court ordered six countries to pay back taxes on imported military equipment, saying the customs duties did not violate the countries' security interests.

The Court of Justice ruled that Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Greece and Denmark owe the European Union tariff payments from Jan. 1, 1998 through Dec. 31, 2002.

Beginning in 2003, the EU suspended military import taxes "in order to take into consideration the protection of military confidentiality by member states," according to a press release issued by the court.

The Luxembourg-based court ruled that the payments are a part of EU member states' "obligations of joint financing of the community budget." The ruling was in response to seven actions brought by the European Commission against the countries.

Germany did make a 10 million euro payment to the commission, but failed to describe what materials were imported when, the order states.

Other nations said they refused to make the payments to protect "essential security interests," but the court ruled that community law allows countries to protect their security interests while still paying import taxes.

Customs documentation is confidential, the press release states, and member states can restrict trade information turned over to the commission "on a case-by-case basis."

"[W]hile it is true that it is for Member States to take the appropriate measures to ensure their internal and external security, those measures are not entirely outside the scope of community law," the press release adds.

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