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UNODC supports Lao Customs in protecting its borders

Vientiane, Lao PDR (1 March 2019)
- Lao PDR shares a border of over 5,000 km with its five neighbours, China to the north, Cambodia to the south, Viet Nam to the east, Thailand to the west, and Myanmar to the northwest. This represents 5,000 km-worth of opportunities for transnational organized criminal groups to smuggle the cash and other criminal proceeds from their illicit activities.

In an effort to provide further support for Lao Customs, UNODC was given access to both the International Airport in Vientiane and the near-by Friendship bridge crossing to Thailand to conduct a gap analysis of the capabilities of Customs to combat the cross border smuggling of cash and other illicit commodities. Over a period of three days, UNODC's regional AML/CFT advisor to the Mekong, Mr Chris Batt, together with a UK Customs advisor, Mr Robert Housley Jeive, conducted a detailed visit to Wattay International Airport and the Bridge crossing to assess the procedures and resources deployed by Lao Customs to combat bulk cash smuggling and the cross border movement of illicit goods.

UNODC's AML/CFT advisor, Mr Batt explained 'In all jurisdictions, the Customs Service is most often the front line in protecting borders from the smuggling of illicit good including cash representing the proceeds of crime. As part of a robust anti-money laundering regime, Countries should be able to deploy adequate resources to ensure that illicit cash and other illegal goods are detected and seized'

In a visit that was a joint collaboration between UNODC, Lao Customs and the British Embassy in Laos, the UNODC Customs advisors were able to provide recommendations to Lao Customs that would enhance the processes and procedures that were already in place at both the airport and the Lao-Thailand bridge crossing. This included increased signage for travellers reminding them of their obligations to disclose currency above the legal threshold, additional scanning equipment for searching bags and freight and further mentoring of front line customs officers in conducting risk assessments of international flights.

Customs Expert Mr Robert Housley Jieve added that overall, he was highly impressed with the professionalism of Lao Customs and the dedication that existed to protect the borders of Lao PDR from smuggling and other areas of transnational crime. That said, he also recognised that with over 5000 kilometres of border and increasing numbers of international passengers and freight, the Government of Lao could not rely on existing resources to maintain adequate controls. There would be a need for further training, additional equipment and increased staff over the coming years.

UNODC's AML advisor, Mr Chris Batt closed by saying 'In addition to maintaining, and where necessary, increasing front line resources to combat cross border crimes, Lao PDR should also be mindful of its 2020 international anti-money laundering and terrorist financing assessment which will include a focus on its cross border controls. Both the UNODC and British Embassy in Lao stand ready to provide additional assistance to the Government of Lao PDR and the Customs Service in particular in this regard'