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Man loses appeal to recover £14,000 seized by Customs

BY PAUL HENRY Co-ordinator — Crime/Court Desk henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 28, 2014    

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A Jamaican with United Kingdom citizenship, who reportedly tried entering the island with £3,000 stashed in his crotch and attempted to bribe Customs officers in order for them not to search him, lost his appeal to recover the £14,000 that was seized and forfeited under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

"It is our view that the learned resident magistrate was entitled to arrive at the conclusion that the money Mr [Leroy] Smith had in his possession should be forfeited as being recoverable property," the panel of three justices of the Court of Appeal (including President Seymour Panton) wrote in an opinion rejecting Smith's appeal.

"His attempt to enter the country with the cash, concealed in the way that it was, was not motivated by reasons of personal safety of his property...," wrote the panel of justices that also included Dennis Morrison and Patrick Brooks.

The £14,000 (roughly $2.5 million) was seized from Smith by Customs officers at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, where he arrived from England on January 14, 2012. The seizure was made after Smith made false declarations as to the amount of money he was carrying and attempted to bribe a Customs officer.

During a forfeiture hearing in November 2012 in the magistrate's court in St James, one of the Customs officers who interfaced with Smith testified that he had wrote on his customs/immigration form that he wasn't travelling with a sum that exceeds US$10,000.

She said he eventually told her that he had £8,000 when she asked him to accompany her to have his luggage checked. Additionally, the Customs officer said he offered her "a little something for her not to search his luggage, which caused her to summon her supervisor. Eleven thousand pounds was found in his luggage and the £3,000 found in his crotch after he was asked to pull down his pants because of how he was acting.

Smith — a security guard in England who had travelled between the UK and Jamaica some six times over a two-year period starting in 2010 — had given several stories about how he came in possession of the cash and its intended use, which did not check out. At the conclusion of the hearing, the money was ordered forfeited. This prompted Smith's unsuccessful petition to the Court of Appeal to have the money returned.

"Mr Smith's attempt to bribe the Customs officer not to search his luggage, false declaration as to the amount of money that he was carrying, his attempt to conceal the money in his clothing from Customs officer and his inconsistent explanations as to the source of the fund amply demonstrate that he was attempting to conceal the money from authorities," the appellate court stated in upholding the magistrate's order to forfeit the cash.

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