ONLINE payments service PayPal has reported hundreds of Scottish customers to the US authorities for allegedly violating US embargoes on trade with Cuba after they bought small amounts of Cuban coffee from a Perth-based bean roaster.
Customers of The Bean Shop in Perth received emails from the payments giant warning their accounts will be suspended if they do not sign an affidavit promising they will not do anything further against US laws. The message also says the customers’ violations of the trade rules have been reported to the American Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The Bean Store has also been told by PayPal that it has to comply with regulations – or risk having the payment method withdrawn from its website.
The row comes as US President Barack Obama last week hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to restore diplomatic and economic ties. The measures will include the establishment of a US embassy in Havana and will see “efforts” made to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo which was created after Cuba came under Communist rule in the 1960s.
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Customer Euan Livingston from Linlithgow bought half a kilo of Cuban Traquero coffee from the Bean Shop online in July for £10. But five months later, he received the message from PayPal informing him that the action was against US regulations.
PayPal wrote: “PayPal’s Compliance Department has reviewed your account and identified activity that is in violation of United States regulations administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
“OFAC rules currently prohibit the purchase or sale of various goods and services originating from Cuban [sic].
“It has come to our attention that you initiated a payment for the purchase of an item or items originating from Cuban that is currently prohibited by OFAC rules.”
Mr Livingston is now pursuing the issue through the Financial Ombudsman. “I’m astonished to be branded a criminal by PayPal for buying two bags of coffee from a boutique coffee roaster in Perth,” he said.
The Bean Shop sent an email to its customers explaining that it could no longer sell Cuban coffee through its site.
“We were just a bit taken aback,” said owner Lorna Bruce. “They told us that we had to either stop using PayPal or take the Cuban coffee off our website. We looked into seeing if it was possible to take the PayPal option off only that particular item, but our web designer said it would be too difficult, so we’ve had to remove it altogether which is a shame as it’s one of our most popular products.”
Last year, a coffee bean shop in York had its PayPal account automatically suspended after it emerged it had sold Cuban coffee through its website.
Martin Sloan, a partner at law firm Brodies, said: “The problem is not just related to buying Cuban coffee using PayPal. Consumers in the UK also face the same difficulties when trying to buy Cuban goods using credit cards issued by US-owned financial services companies such as MBNA, American Express and Egg, or travelling to Cuba and relying on travel insurance that is underwritten by AIG.”
PayPal refused to comment.
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