Worldwide sting turns up millions in smuggled cash

AP News
Posted: Nov 06, 2009 9:15 AM

A crackdown in more than 80 countries turned up $3.5 million hidden in carry-on and checked bags as people smuggled illicit money across international borders.

The more than 70 cash seizures are likely the proceeds of organized crime, said John Morton, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The operation that was conducted during the last week of October shows the commitment of these criminal organizations to move money all over the world, Morton said, adding that he's always surprised by the creative ways people try to hide cash. The weeklong operation involved 83 countries.

"It's going on every day around us in literally every country around the world," he said.

For instance, last week's operation found cash hidden inside the padding of winter jackets packed in luggage in an Eastern European airport and silver coins stuffed in a rice cooker in a central European airport.

"I'm sure right now someone is busily trying to figure out how to conceal money in an iPhone," Morton said.

World Customs Organization Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya said he was surprised to see so much money being smuggled in and out of Turkey. In a telephone interview, Mikuriya said these seizures could reveal information about routes between Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Latin America and North Africa.

Morton said than $500,000 was seized in Turkey _ money that is probably associated with the drug trade.

The broad participation in this recent operation is a good sign that so many countries can work together on a law enforcement issue, said Thomas Winkowski, an assistant commissioner with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The operation led to at least four arrests _ none in the U.S. _ according to an ICE spokeswoman. She would not say where the arrests took place.