Monday, June 25, 2012

Illicit border trade flourishes during elections


The multi-million kina illicit trade in PNG using smuggled items from Indonesia, particularly cigarettes, is flourishing during the elections with decreased Customs, police and military presence at Wutung Border Post at West Sepik province.
Lack of personnel at Wutung means that smugglers basically have free reign during the election period, as was witnessed by The National at the border post at the weekend.
With PNG lacking maritime strength to patrol the sea border, there is no control of what comes in through this.
Customs were not checking in goods brought in from Batas Market on the Indonesian side of the border at the weekend.
Yesterday (Sunday), The National witnessed the illicit trade at Vanimo Airport, where several carefully-packed cartons of Indonesian cigarettes consigned for Wewak and Mt Hagen were loaded on to an Air Niugini Q400 flight bound for Wewak, without as much as a question being asked as to their contents.
A private intelligence source monitoring the illicit trade at the border, told The National in Vanimo yesterday that a highly-organised racket involving wealthy Highlands businessmen and local Wutung and West Sepik villagers existed.

Cheap Indonesian cigarettes being sold at a roadside stall in Vanimo at the weekend. These cigarettes proliferate in Vanimo and are now being smuggled in large consignments into the Highlands.-Nationalpic by MALUM NALU
A senior government officer told The National in Vanimo yesterday that the illicit trade was a serious threat to national security as guns, drugs and human trafficking could easily be carried out from Indonesia.
The intelligence source said the cigarettes were transported to Aitape near the border of East and West Sepik provinces, and then moved down to Wewak and then Madang for transport to the Highlands.
“It comes from the Batas Market, across the Wutung Border Post, and then comes out towards Vanimo,” he said.
“What the Highlands businessmen are doing is that they liaise with the local villagers and get them to carry Indonesian cigarettes across from Batas.
“They stockpile these cigarettes in the villages until they reach 20-30 cartons.
“These then come out from Wutung Village via boat or road to Aitape, transported by road to Wewak, then loaded onto ships or dinghies for Madang or Bogia, where they are picked up and transported by road to Mt Hagen, Minj or Banz.
“The concern is that these Indonesia cigarettes are brought in without paying any excise duty to the government, which is missing out on millions.”
The senior government officer said this was a very serious threat to national security which must be addressed immediately.
“All stakeholders including Customs, police and PNG defence Force must work together,” he said.
“I do not know what the Border Development Authority is doing.
“There are no patrol boats manning the maritime border with Indonesia.
“Cutoms officers at the Wutung Border Post are under-resourced and this is a very big concern.
“Apart from cigarettes, anything can be brought into PNG like forearms, drugs, anything.
“It’s a concern for the government and they have to address this at the national level.
“Smuggling is very big.”

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