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Customs keep tab on illegal currency:

Public unaware of currency import and export laws



Customs Spokesman, Director Leslie Gamini

The Sri Lanka Customs is responsible for the important, transit and export of goods in the country as well as the collection of import and export duty. This includes the chief objectives of revenue collection, trade facilitation, law enforcement and social protection.

A currency exchange worker holds a handful of euro notes -Getty Images

Seizing prohibited items like raw and finished gold, dangerous narcotics like Heroin, illicit cigarettes and prohibited plants and extracts like Wallapatta and Red Sanders as stated in the Fauna and Flora Act, the Sri Lanka Customs has earned a reputation in the past few years.

This could also be due to the growing trend of smuggling gold and drugs that never seem to cease with the increasing number of detections or surveillance. However, amidst these common smuggling trends, officials have observed a new trend developing, which is to import and export local and foreign currency beyond the approved limits.

Although many were nabbed for violating the import and export laws of currency due to ignorance of the existing law, some seemed to engaged in the illicit business being aware of the consequences. With a sum of Rs.78.94 million worth of local and foreign currency being forfeited in 2013 only and around five such instances being thwarted up to now for this year, the Customs will keep close tabs on this latest trend without it getting out of hand. Most of the people arrested in connection with carrying currency at the airport were found hiding them in their attires, under false bottoms of baggages and sometimes in their person.

In none of these instances have the suspects declared the money they were carrying to the Customs declaration points.

The latest incident reported on April 22 where three Sri Lankan women returning from India were searched on suspicion and found importing a large sum of local and foreign currency worth over Rs.8.8 million. The suspects were residents of Kalmunai area were searched and stacks of various bank notes hidden in their brassieres. Customs officials at the Bandaranaike International Airport recovered US Dollars 61, 000, Euro 1, 200, Saudi Riyal 1, 405 and Sterling Pounds 348 from their possession.

Customs officers seize currency stash

It was learnt that these women were operating as carriers to certain unknown parties. They get a small commission for carrying the money secretly from one country to another.

Among such instances detected recently Customs officials came across instances where individuals were found carrying amounts of money concealed even below the allowed limits of the exchange laws. Having questioned them as to why they carried legitimate amounts of money concealed, they revealed that most people hardly knew about the import and export limitations of local and foreign currency.

Customs Spokesman, Director Leslie Gamini told the Sunday Observer that this had created a financially, unhealthy environment and unwanted fear among the public who want to import large sums of money into the country for various commercial and tourism purposes.

A fear among many people is that, if they declare the money they bring they might have to pay a tax for it and to evade the tax payment they don't declare the money they bring into the country. This is baseless and by declaring the amount of money, the Customs does not charge a single cent. The only thing is that for amounts above the permissible limits should be declared upon importing or exporting.

Import and Export of local currency

According to laws of the Exchange Control Department followed by the Customs, any person coming into the country or going out of Sri Lanka could keep local currency amounting to Rs.20, 000 in his possession without declaring.

Exporting of foreign currency

A person can take out legally acquired foreign currency in any form up to US $ 10, 000 without declaring to Customs. However , if the total in foreign currency notes exceeds US $ 5, 000 the entirety should be declared to Customs.

The foreign currency retained in compliance with the regulations on possession of foreign currency can be used for subsequent visits abroad within the allowed period of retention.

Import of foreign currency

The law states that a person can bring any amount of foreign currency in Travellers Cheques , Bank Drafts or Currency Notes. However if the total sum of foreign currency exceeds US $ 15, 000 it should be declared to the Customs. Also if a person wishes to take out foreign currency more than US $ 5, 000 in notes the entirety must be declared.

Possession of foreign currency Any sum earned from employment, profession, or business abroad and declare to Customs as given above maybe retained in his or her possession for 90 days. Any sum obtained from the bank , authorised travel agent or authorised money changer and remained unused maybe retained in possession for 90 days. Any person returned from travel abroad may retain up to US $ 2, 000 without any time limit.

According to the Customs Spokesman declaration of currency is important as it helps to monitor how much money flows in and out of the country in maintaining the economic standards. Also many unlawful activities like money laundering, where illegally earned money converted into white money and illegal or shadow money transferring schemes like Undiyal and informal value transfer systems like Hawala, which is popular among South East Asian and South Indian groups could be minimised.

It is anybody's wish to carry any amount of money ,but there is a legal requirement to declare if one carries more than the amount an individual is permitted to carry. Knowingly or unknowingly people are hesitant to declare their money thinking it would cause unnecessary hassle. But many people face unnecessary hassle at airports simply because they chose not to declare their money. The Customs is trying its level best to educate the public on this issue and avoid creating an unnecessary phobia in carrying money from one country to another.

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