Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos
By Chinedu Eze
A fresh attempt to smuggle foreign currencies out of the country failed over the weekend. Two men involved in the deal to smuggle $2 million and 20,300 (N852, 600) Saudi Arabia riyals were arrested at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, which in the last few months has become a favourite route for currency smugglers and their allies.
However, just like in previous attempts, the vigilance of security agents aborted the smugglers’ nefarious bid.
The culprits were apprehended by the Airport Committee Special Task Force before they could board their flights.
Mr. Talal Hammoud, with passport number A 03599105 and Mr. Hassan Rmaiti, a member of staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), with on duty card (ODC) 25009 were caught with three bags of money containing $2,073,160 (N329,632,440) and 20,300 Saudi riyal (N852,600), which they did not declare to the Customs during the check in process.
While Hammoud was the one travelling, Rmaiti, leveraging on his status as a staff member of FAAN, was recruited to help facilitate the “crossing” of the money through the screening/security post.
On October 20, at the "D" wing section of the Nigeria Customs Service Currency Screening Desk, another FAAN official, Mr Adetula A. A, was arrested with a bag containing $1.4 million belonging to a passenger which was not declared.
According to the Customs Area Comptroller at the Lagos Airport, Mr Charles Eporwei, the task force had handed the two suspects in the last smuggling bid to the Customs, which in turn handed them over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for further investigation and necessary action.
Eporwei said in a statement that the foreign currencies were found on the two suspects at the "E" wing departure area of the Lagos airport.
He said the suspects violated regulations of government by attempting to take such a huge amount of money out of the country without declaring the currencies to the Customs currency desk officers on duty.
He further explained that the airport committee special task force operating at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos consists of all security agencies working at the airport, including, the EFCC, State Security Services (SSS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and Nigeria Immigration Services.
“The airport committee special task force was recently inaugurated by the Federal Government for the monitoring of the operations of security agencies, airlines and other stakeholders at the airport, at check in counters, departure screening areas and arrival halls,” Eporwei said.
Just last week, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Command of Nigeria Customs Service arrested another passenger with over $320,000 aboard a Qatar Airways on a Doha-bound flight.
Eporwei, in giving account of the arrest of the Doha-bound passenger, had said: “At about 1300 hours on November 19, 2012, a passenger by name Onwuekwe Anthony Chidi, with passport number A04086671 was checking in on Qatar Airways and declared the sum of $70,000 on both forms CDFIA and Customs but when he was arrested the sum of $320,000 ((N50,880,000) was found on him, an amount of money he could not explain the source or show adequate proof of his business.”
He also explained that the command had put in place measures to hand over the passenger to the EFCC for further investigation.
He said it had become imperative for Customs at the airport to comply with government regulations as it affects foreign exchange in line with the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) CAP C 45 LFN 2004 as amended.
Eporwei disclosed that since September 24, 2012 when the office received a letter from the EFCC, it had put in place a collaborative working arrangement with the command currency declaration officers at the Lagos airport.
He said the collaborative efforts had been paying off as many passengers caught with undeclared foreign currencies higher than the accepted amount by law had been restrained from travelling and those arrested were handed over to the EFCC.
Many Nigerians are worried about the source of such huge sums being ferried out of the nation’s economy. While some suggest it is money being stolen by top but corrupt government officials, especially as the year is winding up, others believe the cases of cash smuggling is on the increase because of the tight banking policies introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which has made it difficult for banks to facilitate fund transfers to other countries which, in the past, had bolstered money laundering deals and transactions.
Sources in the financial sector informed that with greater surveillance at the various exit points in the country, many more persons with such money will be arrested as there is a frenzy to “move such hot funds to safer regions”.