Luang Prabang and Pak Xe, Lao PDR (28 August 2020) - Lao PDR has 5,000 km of border which it shares with China and Myanmar to the north, Thailand and Cambodia to the west and south west and Viet Nam to the east. This represents 5,000 km-worth of opportunities for transnational organized criminal groups to smuggle the proceeds from their illicit activities.
To support Lao Customs in its efforts to identify and prosecute suspected cash smugglers, the UNODC Global Program against Money Laundering (GPML) has been working with Customs Officers to improve cross-border controls and provide the skills to combat bulk cash smuggling while understanding the links to money laundering. Two separate cash courier workshops have just been delivered in the northern city of Luang Prabang and southern city of Pak Xe.
The two training events were delivered by Mr. Chris Batt, the UNODC AML/CFT Advisor to the Mekong Region who is based in Laos. Mr Batt, a former British police investigator and veteran of many cash smuggling and anti-money laundering investigations said “ Customs officers represent the front line when it comes to protecting land border crossings and international airports from the smuggling of cash believed to be the proceeds of crime or intended for use in crime," “Anything that can be done to help remove criminal proceeds and frustrate the transnational organized criminal networks has to be a good thing” he added.
With support from the Government of Switzerland who fund the UNODC AML/CFT program in the Mekong region, a total of 36 customs officers were trained during the two events. The training included sessions on money laundering, cash and bearer negotiable instruments, concealment methods, the Lao anti-money laundering law and related Customs regulations, the role of the Financial Intelligence Unit and the suspicious transaction reporting regime, targeted questioning and passenger profiling. The participants, representing two international airports and a number of land border crossings were also made aware of the forthcoming delivery of WCO equipment and new internal practices.
"Many cash seizures form the starting point for money laundering investigations and prosecutions" said Mr Batt “Which is why we have included a detailed session on the Lao Anti-Money Laundering Offence and examined the different elements of the crime, something that is probably quite new to Customs Officers” he added.
In addition to enhancing the ability of Lao Customs to identify and apprehend criminal couriers, the support UNODC provided will also assist Lao PDR prepare for its Financial Action Task Force (FATF) mutual evaluation which is scheduled for early 2021. During the two weeks that the international assessors will be in Laos, the capacity of Lao Customs to adequately protect its borders, especially in relation to cash smuggling and money laundering, will be an area of FATF focus.