Two Singaporeans were nabbed at Colombo airport after they tried to exit through the green channel with some 26 million rupees (S$200,000) worth of undeclared jewellery.
The couple, who arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport from Singapore at about midnight last Friday, had 4.85kg of gold jewellery hidden in their clothes, said Mr Lal Weerakoon, Sri Lanka Customs' acting media spokesman.
"They were supposed to exit the airport through the red channel and declare the items under the law, but instead, used the green channel and were detected by Customs officers," the spokesman added, when contacted by The Straits Times yesterday. The green channel is for those who have nothing to declare.
The jewellery would have been subjected to about 40 per cent in duty and other levies if declared.
The items were impounded as government property after being seized, certified as genuine, inventoried, sealed and stamped with the couple's signatures.
The couple, aged between 45 and 55, are employed at a moneychanger in Singapore. They were questioned and paid the 2.8 million-rupee penalty on the same day and released.
"Further investigations are being carried out on the instructions of the director of Customs M. A. Karunarathne and several other senior officers," said Mr Weerakoon.
It is understood that cases of attempted smuggling involving foreign nationals are detected at Colombo airport now and then.
But last Friday's arrests appears to be the first reported case in recent time involving Singapore passport holders.
The couple had travelled to Sri Lanka six times this year, said Mr Weerakoon, who is Superintendent of Customs.
In April last year, Sri Lanka imposed a 15 per cent tax on gold, fuelling the appetite for smuggling.
The island's Sunday Times newspaper reports that the gold industry now depends on smuggled gold for stocks. Citing industry sources, it said sellers operated on a "very thin margin to satisfy customers" as importers had to absorb the duties and additional 15 per cent tax.
"Smuggled gold now represents almost all requirements of local jewellers as they are not in a sound financial position to pay an additional 15 per cent to licensed bullion sellers, including banks for their requirements," said the paper, citing sellers.