Private Investigator: Customs checking baggage

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 42            November 1, 2007

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Private Investigator: Customs checking baggage
Q: Flying out of the island I noticed a gentleman going through a suitcase at one of the local airlines. He had a uniform on, and from what I was told, he was a custom officer. However, I did not see anyone with him, so I am assuming that the owner was unaware of what was going on. Is this legal? And, how common of a practice is it?
- Via Email

A: According to Officer in Charge of San Pedro, Examiner Grade 1 for the Customs Department Jason Menzies this is a completely legal practice. This procedure is carried out in an attempt to discover contraband items that may be illegally brought to the island either for re-sale or personal use. In the past, however, if a suitcase, luggage or package was suspected to have contained contraband items, the packages would be searched. If any would be found, the items were left inside the package at any of the airlines’ cargo hold. When the owner would claim the package, they would be questioned as to the suspected contraband items and if the owner could not present a proper receipt for the item in question, it would then be confiscated and the person would face a fine for handling un-customed items.

    Today, Menzies continues his inspections on suspected baggage whether the owner is present or not, and if anything illegal is discovered it is immediately confiscated; it is no longer left behind. If and when a person claims the package, questioning by the custom officer begins.

    “San Pedro is classified as a selling port and all items brought to the country need to be declared at any of Belize’s border,” commented Menzies, “Items that enter the island from Belize City or Corozal need to be declared before arriving here.” Menzies warns business owners that the most popular contraband items brought to the island are either alcohol or cigarettes. Business owners need to know that custom officers, at any time, can carry out inspections. If a contraband item is found, a proper receipt needs to be produced. If that is unavailable the item/s can get confiscated and the owner charged. If a receipt is handed in, officers carry out their due diligence to make sure that the receipt is factual and that the agent paid his proper taxes and duty importation on the items in question.

    For further details, contact the San Pedro Customs Office at 226-3341.
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