A 55-YEAR-OLD Suphan Buri man has been arrested after Customs officials discovered 22 bags stuffed with money hidden in a car he was driving at the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge border checkpoint in Nong Khai’s Muang district on Thursday evening.
The bags contained Bt30.185 million in undeclared Thai banknotes that he had hidden in a Mercedes Benz E300 sedan, said Nong Khai Customs chief Nimit Saeng-ampai.
The Customs chief said the seizure was likely part of the same cash-smuggling operation that saw two Laos citizens netted last December for attempting to smuggle more than Bt98 million back across the same border in a Toyota Land Cruiser
He said the authorities had been monitoring the Mercedes Benz as it moved back and forth between Thailand and Laos over the past 30 days, before making their move on Thursday.
Suspect Khan Sansuwan, 55, a resident of Suphan Buri’s Dan Chang district, claimed to be a construction contractor in Laos. He reportedly confessed to Thai Customs officials and immigration police that he planned to use part of the money to pay for construction insurance fees and materials in Laos, while he was hired to transport the remainder to Laos, said Nimit.
Khan refused to say who had paid him to transport the cash, Nimit said, so officials would continue to investigate. The Customs Office has seized the cash pending further investigation.
If the suspect confesses, he will be fined and receive back only Bt2 million while the state confiscate the remainder of the seized money. If he fights the allegation, police and other agencies will investigate to determine if the cash was illegally acquired or linked to drug trafficking or money-laundering.
Nimit said that Thai authorities already had a list of names of suspected cash-smugglers that should help expedite the case.
Thai law prohibits taking undeclared sums exceeding Bt450,000 outside the country. Anyone transporting undeclared cash valued between Bt450,000 and Bt2 million across the border is liable to a Bt20,000 fine, while larger amounts draw a Bt40,000 fine and an amount above Bt2 million would be confiscated, Nimit said.
The December case against the two Lao cash smuggling suspects is with the Department of Special Investigation. The men claim the cash came from their currency-exchange business in Laos. But the DSI transaction committee earlier this month approved a 90-day confiscation of the money. The suspects have 30 days to explain where the money came from.
Businesspeople should use banks rather than smuggling cash, Nimit said. In the case of both the Suphan Buri suspect and the two Laos men, the money was not declared to Thai authorities and not their Laos counterparts, hence there were suspicions the cash was acquired illegally, Nimit said.