Over 5 million US dollars seized in global operation targeting cash smuggling

28 November 2019

Nineteen (19) countries recently participated in a ground-breaking international operation, code-named TENTACLE, targeting the smuggling of cash and other valuables, leading to over 3.7 million US dollars in cash being seized as well as approximately 28.5 kilograms of gold worth 1.3 million US dollars.

This was the first operation of its kind to be organized by the WCO. Participating countries, all from the WCO Asia/Pacific region except for the United States, strengthened their controls from 25 August to 6 October 2019 to detect the movement of concealed or undeclared currency and bearer negotiable instruments, as well as gems and precious metals, which were being smuggled via commercial air and other cross-border transport modes.

The Operational Control Unit (OCU) was hosted by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and consisted of staff from the ABF’s Border Related Financial Crimes Unit who were backed up by experts from the WCO Secretariat. Together, they provided support to participating countries, compiled data, facilitated international communication, and followed up thereupon. INTERPOL also supported the operation.

Exceptional seizures were made by a number of Customs administrations, five of which are highlighted below:

  • The ABF seized Australian 100 dollar bills valued at 122,000 US dollars, which were concealed in magazines whose pages had been removed. They also seized 2,700 US dollars in the form of 100 dollar bills that were being smuggled into Australia.
  • India Customs made two cash seizures of 557,000 and 449,000 US dollars respectively, both of which involved the concealment of various currencies inside carry-on luggage.
  • Japan Customs detected a large gold smuggling scheme that involved the concealment of gold bars within a bundle of 10,000 yen notes that had a hollowed-out centre.
  • Sri Lanka Customs seized a considerable quantity of gold that had been transformed into paste, which two individuals attempted to smuggle to Bangladesh. The gold paste was found hidden inside pellets in one passenger’s luggage, and on the person of another passenger.
  • Thai Customs seized a significant six bars of gold, as well as a large quantity of gemstones that were being smuggled out of Thailand.

Operation TENTACLE was organized as part of the WCO’s effort to enhance the capacity of Customs administrations to identify illicit financial flows, combat money laundering, and prevent terrorist financing. It followed an Anti-money Laundering/Counter-terrorism Financing Workshop that was funded by Japan Customs and held in Kashiwa, Japan, in January 2019.

“It is a primary goal of WCO Members to more actively engage in the global effort to identify money laundering activities by transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups; and to do so in partnership with their law enforcement partners at the national and international levels” explained Stefan Kirsch, Deputy Director, Compliance at the WCO.

Reflecting on ABF support to Operation TENTACLE and the role of Customs in combating illicit financial flows, Superintendent Chris White of the ABF Border Related Financial Crimes Unit said: “As Australia’s national Customs service, we recognize the crucial contribution we play in the anti-money laundering strategy. The frequent cross-border movement of trade, travellers and finances sees the ABF and other Customs services as the tip of the spear in delivering an effective border-related enforcement strategy to counter illicit financial flows.”

INTERPOL’s General Secretariat with its global network of 194 member countries also provided assistance and support to Operation TENTACLE. The Assistant Director of the Criminal Networks Sub-Directorate, Jose De Gracia, stated: “This operation was a great example of a multidisciplinary and transnational concerted, tailored activity to tackle the non-declared movements of bulk cash and other assets across countries and borders. INTERPOL will continue its good cooperation with the WCO and Customs organizations in the future.”

The WCO will be organizing various similar activities in the coming years, in order to boost its international law enforcement actions, and ensure that Customs administrations more actively engage in global efforts to combat money laundering and other finance-related illegal activities being perpetrated by transnational criminal and terrorist organizations.