By Chiazo Ogbolu
Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) on Tuesday disclosed that the Custom Command at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport had intercepted 8.06 million U.S. dollars from the airport.
Ali, during a media briefing in Lagos, said that the dollars loaded in six big `bagco’ bags were packed in a coaster bus belonging to the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company and was intercepted at the airport tarmac.
He added that one suspect, the driver of the bus, Chimezie Okonkwo was arrested and taken into custody with the intercepted consignment.
According to him, his visit today is connected to one of the critical roles customs play as an agency that acts as the watchdog of national economic security.
“We all know that countries of the world prosper through international trade. The era of globalisation has brought about an explosion in the exchange of goods and services across our borders.
“Its complexities and time sensitiveness has led to developments in the international financial system that guarantee safe, secured and fast cross border platforms for payment of goods and services.
“While provisions are made for various forms of international electronic transfers, exceptions are made for those who prefer to travel across borders with cash and other monetary instruments.
“When this option is used, those who carry physical cash across the borders are obliged by law to make declaration of such movement once the value is above the approved threshold,” he said.
He pointed that currently the value of the threshold in Nigeria was the equivalent of 10,000 dollars and above.
He therefore said that all travelers in and out of Nigeria, must declare any physical cash in excess of this threshold of 10,000 dollars or equivalent of other currencies or monetary instruments.
The Customs boss said that question was often asked, why customs or any agency of government need to know if a private person or company was taking out monies for their personal business ‘out of the country.
He noted that it was for the reason that illegal criminal activities like international terrorism, drug smuggling, arms proliferation are financed by illicit cash movements outside the recognised financial systems.
He added that proceeds from other criminal activities like corrupt enrichments from public treasury are similarly siphoned out of the country in cash.
“To enforce compliance with the monitoring of cross border cash movement, registers are maintained at all approved points of entry and exit, where voluntary declarations are recorded and maintained.
“The declarations are then followed up by the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ascertain any possible link between the cash movers and criminal networks.
“At the Murtala Mohammed Airport, the command put in place additional measures to monitor the implementation of the anti-money laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing operation.
“These measures include surveillance at the arrival and departure halls, increased patrols at the tarmac and cultivation of intelligence around its area of responsibility,” he said.
Ali said that siting on such credible information, the command operatives at about 1200 hrs on Jan. 16 intercepted illegal movement of foreign currency at the ‘E’ wing of the Tarmac.
He said that on Jan. 18, an inventory of the consignment was taken, and was witnessed by representatives of the Directorate of State Security, Customs Intelligence Unit, Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Unit, Customs Police and the suspect.
He added that at the end of the inventory, a total number of 20 sealed wraps were opened, counted, re-sealed and re-wrapped under video coverage from the beginning of the exercise to the end.
He pointed that the total intercepted stood at 8,065,612 dollars (Eight Million, Sixty-Five Thousand, Six hundred and twelve Dollars only).
Ali said that the consignment remains in safe custody, while preliminary investigations had commenced on the seizure, adding that the media would be updated as the investigations unfold.
He appealed to Nigerian travelers and those in business to declare any cash with them if they chose to carry such, adding that the threshold still remains 10,000 dollars.