Dieter Johann auf der Heide, 73, travelled to the Swiss side of Lake Constance which borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland to visit his daughter.
While there he travelled to Austria to lay new tiles in the shower of his daughter’s holiday home in Vorarlberg. His son-in-law lent him his Mercedes R 320 to transport the tools in, but at the border between Switzerland and Austria at the border town of Höchst he was stopped, the Westfalen-Blatt reported on Friday.
“I had to get out [of the car],” he told the paper. “The man then threw all the doors open and called a dog handler over. Both had their right hand on their gun the whole time. It was like a crime novel. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”
They took his papers and when they returned said he had to pay €14,767 and told Dieter he was facing a criminal conviction.
The officials said he had breached customs and tax laws as he was bringing a car into the EU which wasn’t registered in the EU and didn’t belong to him and hadn't declared it at the border.
“Ignorance is no excuse, but no one knows these rules,” Dieter said.
He called his son-in-law who arrived hours later with the money. He was given a written warning which stated a financial crime had been “proven”.
The incident happened three years ago and Dieter, from Bielefeld, North-Rhine Westphalia, appealed against the decision. But an Austrian court struck down his claim three weeks ago and said the fine was justified. EU citizens cannot bring a car which is not registered in the EU into the union without declaring it at customs.
Legally, the car was regarded as a commodity, on which neither tax nor duty had been paid in the EU. In effect the German man was treated as if he was attempting to smuggle the car into Austria.
Austrian customs authorities said they could not comment on individual cases but told the APA press agency that "cases like this are unfortunately not rare".
The Customs Office at Feldkirch said the payment was not unusually high – "we've also had Ferraris," they said. The amount of tax and customs duty payable depends on the value of the vehicle.
German motoring association ADAC advises drivers who rent a car in Switzerland to ask for a car which is registered in the EU if they wish to cross the border with it.