New Caledonians Fined For Currency Violation In Solomons

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Visitors failed to make customs declaration when entering country

By Assumpta Buchanan

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, March 6, 2014) – Two New Caledonian nationals who have confessed to failing to declare more than $80,000 upon entering the country have been fined a total of $32,000.

Jacques Raymond Marie Joseph Benebig and his wife Rose Marie Benita Kabarep Benebig were charged with failing to declare foreign currencies to the Customs & Immigration and false declaration.

Both have pleaded guilty to the charges on Monday afternoon before Principal Magistrate Shepherd Lapo.

Magistrate Lapo when handing down his sentence said the two accused came to help the people of Solomon Islands to buy their crafts.

However he said they breached the Customs and Currencies Act of Solomon Islands and the case is new to the country.

He took into consideration their early guilty plea, that they were remorseful for what they did, and that they have no previous convictions in the country.

He also considered submission by the prosecution in which both accused have come to buy artefacts without the authority of the Commissioner of Labour in which both have been doing for the past years here.

"You both have come into the country for a purpose but have done it unlawfully."

He then imposed a fine of $15,000 each for the first count while $1,000 each was imposed for the false declaration charge.

Crown Prosecutor Florence Joel has asked for a $30,000 fine in which both accused agreed to pay.

The maximum penalty of failing to declare foreign currencies to customs is $500,000 or five years in jail while that of false declaration is of $10,000.

Under the jurisdiction of a principal magistrate the maximum fine for the first charge is $50,000.

Failure to pay up the fines before yesterday will result in a total of eight month imprisonment term.

Their passports have been ordered to be released to the two accused as of Monday as they were to fly out of the country on the following day.

The court heard that Jacques has a heart disease that has no medication in the country and needs to be flown back.

The couple have entered the country on February 18, this year from Vanuatu as tourists.

Ms Joel said they brought in Euro $10,000 which is equivalent to $89,126.56 Solomon Islands dollars.

She said both have filled the Immigration, Customs and Quarantine incoming passenger declaration form but they did not declare the sum of money.

"They both declared ‘No’ to the question which asked whether they brought in SBD $50,000 in Solomon or foreign currency equivalent.

"However, the cash was not picked up by the customs officers at the airport who checked them and their luggage at the airport."

The court heard the two accused were questioned when they went to sell the Euro $10,000 at the ANZ bank.

The accused told the bank officer that he and his wife were travelling therefore the cash was allowed into the country as they share the cash by Euro $5,000 which is equivalent to $44,563.28.

The money was to buy local artefacts from the locals and send them in a container to Vanuatu.

He has a business of selling artefacts in New Caledonia.

Magistrate Lapo referred the orders for the forfeiture of the detained currencies to be made in the High Court.

Makario Tagini of Global Lawyers represented the couple.

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