During the customs raids in the year 2016, customs officers of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) managed to seize several illegal imports smuggled into the country such as foreign currency, gold, jewellery, cigarettes, gems and narcotics.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror BIA Deputy Customs Director Parakrama Basnayake said that the Sri Lanka Customs at BIA had been able to conduct a large number of raids during the year 2016, in comparison to the previous years. Basnayake also noted that the Customs treats all passengers equally, with the exception of the President.
During the raids, 30 incidents had been reported on foreign currency, 28 cases on gold and jewellery, 24 cases relating to cigarettes, 14 reports falling under offences relating to bio-diversity, four cases on narcotics, 8 cases relating to gem stones and 3 cases on medicinal drugs.
From the raids on foreign currency alone, the BIA Customs officers had been able to earn the government a revenue of Rs. 330 million.
A large stock of gemstones raided last year
There were 28 cases reported on gold and jewellery smuggling through which the government received an additional income of about Rs.15 million.
However when compared with the previous years, a slight decrease has been reported in the attempts to smuggle gold and jewellery out of the country. In contrast, countries like India and Singapore increased attempts of smuggling gold were reported.
Following a series of customs detections it was disclosed that smugglers had changed their method of exporting gold and jewellery into other countries. Incidents have been reported where smugglers had opted to move goods via sea routes instead of transporting goods by plane. Customs had also reported several incidents on gold smuggling in the northern region of Sri Lanka and from India, during the last year.
A stock of jewellery seized by officers
24 incidents of illegal cigarette imports had been reported and the largest detections were made during the latter part of the year. The total value of cigarettes seized was an estimated Rs. 21 million.
According to our sources the reason behind the increase in illegal imports of cigarettes was the increase in demand following the VAT increment last year. Most of the illegal cigarette imports were from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and China. The most amount of cigarettes imported during the end of last year was from China. The demand was attributed to the high quality of their cigarettes. It was noted that cigarettes could be imported at a very low price, however the resultant income when introduced to the Sri Lankan Market would eventually be very high. Due to this reason Customs had taken steps to impose huge fines for Chinese cigarette imports, with the intention of discouraging such efforts. Officials believe that the increase in the Chinese population in Sri Lanka, would have contributed to the increase in illegal cigarette imports, with a view to catering to the requirement of the Chinese people in the country.
Replicas of antiques were also seized during raids
The Customs Bio-diversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Branch had conducted 14 raids at the BIA departure lounge. Endemic species legally protected in Sri Lanka; species of fauna and flora, were seized while attempting to be smuggled out of the country.
Eight gemstone raids had been done by the Customs during the past year and more than Rs.10 million was earned by the government as a result.
During the past year the BIA customs had also seized narcotics such as Cocaine, Heroin and Kerala Ganja on five occasions.
Two female citizens of Venezuela and Bolivia were arrested with 1,240 grams and 2,615 grams of cocaine respectively, in their possession, on two occasions. Most of the stocks of Kerala Ganja arrives in the island via sea routes while Sri Lanka has now become the distribution hub for Kerala Ganja. Small amounts of Kerala Ganja are transported by airlines.
There have been numerous inquiries from public as to the fate of narcotics seized by the Customs. As such, Sri Lanka Customs should adopt transparency mechanisms on this issue. However, it should also be noted that the Customs generally hands over any narcotic consignment to the Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) within 24 hours after the raid. At this point, the total responsibility with regard to the consignment is with the PNB.
On three occasions during the past year, the customs had seized common medicinal drugs freely available in the country, being illegally imported to Sri Lanka.