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UNODC trains customs officials to fight cash smuggling in the Mekong

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 22 May 2012 - More than 12,000 km of borders divide the Mekong River countries of Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. This represents 12,000-km-worth of opportunities for transnational organized criminal groups to smuggle the cash proceeds from their illicit activities. To counter this, the UNODC Global Programme against Money Laundering (GPML) works with South-East Asia customs and law enforcement officers to improve cross-border controls and trains them to combat the bulk smuggling of cash.

"Customs officers at airports, sea ports and border crossings are in the front line when it comes to locating and seizing cash believed to be the proceeds of crime or intended for use in crime," said Mr. Chris Batt, UNODC/World Bank AML/CFT Advisor, Mekong Region.

"Many of these cash seizures form the starting point for money laundering investigations and prosecutions," Mr. Batt explained. "This is important because seizing the proceeds of crime helps to remove the life blood of future criminality."

Identifying money-laundering activities and recovering criminally acquired assets remains a key tool in the fight against transnational organized crime and corruption. Until recently, there were few cases of successful prosecution - but thanks to UNODC that is beginning to change.

"Anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism is high on the agenda for both UNODC and the Governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam," said Mr. Batt.

Figures from the Financial Intelligence Unit at the National Bank of Cambodia, for example, show an increase in the reporting by financial institutions of suspicious transactions. In 2011 there were 138 suspicious transactions reported, compared to 99 in 2010.This suggests that the reporting entities, in particular the banks, are working harder to uncover transactions passing through their accounts where there is a suspicion of money laundering. This factor, combined with the fact that Cambodia remains very much a cash-based economy, makes cash smuggling attractive to criminals and cash couriers. Having a robust cross border response to cash smuggling is just one crucial part of an overall anti-money laundering regime.

As part of its regional GMPL activities, UNODC just completed a series of training courses for customs officers from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam to combat bulk cash smuggling and improve cross-border controls.

In all, 120 customs officers from the three Mekong countries were trained in the latest cash smuggling techniques, money laundering, intelligence development, practical interviewing techniques, and cash forensics and evidence handling. Participants conducted cash seizure operations during the course, using forensic 'cash kits' to preserve the suspected cash for fingerprints, DNA and possible contamination. They also carried out interviews with suspected cash couriers.

The training, over four weeks in Hanoi, Vientiane, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, was delivered by Chris Batt, UNODC Resident Regional Advisor on Money Laundering, and by Mr. Bernie Crossey, the course content designer

In addition to the training, the participants were provided with a comprehensive manual of guidance containing further detail on the course content together with specimen forensic cash kits for future use.