The daily Die Welt reports that German website owners selling items such as Cuban cigars have had their transactions blocked and have even seen their PayPal accounts closed in recent days.
The move is apparently in response to the long-standing US embargo against Cuba, which generally prohibits American companies from doing business there. But there are no such restrictions against European Union companies and, EBay, which is based in California, has allowed Cuba-related transactions by Europeans to go through in the past.
Thomas Altman, who sells Cuban cigars and spirits through his internet store, told Die Welt that PayPal has closed his account despite his protests, making it impossible for him to sell his products.
“We offered a compromise, but PayPal has not addressed it at all,” he said.
A PayPal spokesman confirmed the closure of Altman's shop and several others to the newspaper, stating that its acting on the policies of its US parent company.
But he offered no alternatives for merchants such as Silke Wolf who said she had lost up to 60 percent of her business through PayPal.
“This has now disappeared and we have no substitute,” she told Die Welt, speculating the move was actually calculated to protect American alcohol brands.
Aggrieved online retailers say they're mulling their legal options and a class action lawsuit is one possibility.
International trade expert Lothar Harings, with the law firm Graf von Westphalen, thinks they'd likely be successful. He called eBay's actions “grossly unlawful” in Germany.
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“eBay itself is violating EU law, mainly EU blocking regulations,” Harings said.
The regulations, which explicitly allow Europeans to do business with Cuba, were formulated in response to US sanctions against the communist caribbean state.