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Friday, April 25, 2014

Customs hits undeclared cigarettes
Airline employee found with 23 cartons of cigarettes

Division of Customs Services director Joe Mafnas said dozens of “undeclared” cigarette cartons were recently intercepted, including those from an airline employee.

“That was a big hit,” Mafnas told Saipan Tribune, referring to a Customs employee’s decision to search an airline employee’s luggage after he declared only two cartons of legal cigarettes.

It turned out the airline employee brought in 23 additional cartons of cigarettes but did not declare them.

“You are allowed to bring in three cartons of legal cigarettes into the CNMI without paying any tax. Beyond that, you have to pay the tax. We’ve seen two cases wherein passengers did not declare the cigarettes in their luggage upon inspection of their luggage,” Mafnas said.

The airline employee later paid for the 23 cartons’ taxes.

Mafnas said another individual lied to a Customs employee that she did not have anything to declare in her luggage, only to be discovered that she had over 50 cartons of cigarettes that were not declared.

“When the customs inspector asked her if she had anything to declare, she said none. But when her luggage was inspected, there’s over 50 undeclared cigarettes,” the Customs director said.

Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson and Customs’ Mafnas said the division is working with the Legislature in coming up with bills that will plug the “loopholes” in laws and regulations so that Customs can impose “immediate penalty” on arriving passengers for not declaring taxable items, or for “lying” to enforcement officers, among other things.

“Right now, everything has to go to court. It takes time and resources. If Customs can impose penalty right away, wherein the passenger pays the tax for discovered undeclared goods, then the government does not lose out on revenues and we save court or government time and other resources,” Mafnas added.

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