Ministry of Finance/Customs: £46,000 carried across half Europe hidden under a mattress in a van

At the end of March, customs officers in Linz, together with the police, succeeded in putting an end to the curious journey of a group of Romanian travellers. From the UK, the driver and his four passengers travelled via France and subsequently Germany carrying £ 46 000 under a mattress in the loading area of a minivan. At the Suben expressway border crossing in Upper Austria, the group of travellers was checked by the police upon entering Germany. It emerged that an arrest warrant was outstanding for one of the Romanians; based on a previous conviction in Innsbruck for a drug offence, he had been banned from residence in Austria. The police therefore arrested this particular passenger. Customs officers then took over further processing, and identified that the required customs declaration for the cash carried in the Mercedes Sprinter was missing.

Initially, the occupants unanimously claimed that the substantial amount of money belonged to all five of them in equal portions. However, no one was able to give a clear explanation as to why the amount in question, equivalent to around EUR 53 000, was stored all together in just one plastic bag under the driver's mattress at the back of the vehicle. During further questioning, which involved an interpreter, the Romanian driver changed his account.

He claimed to have received the money from his father who, for his part, had obtained it in Romania from the sale of land. Following this, the 35-year-old had set off five days before being stopped in Suben in order to look for used cars in the UK and purchase them using the cash in question. He then wanted to bring the vehicles to Romania using a car transporter, which he had also intended to look for and purchase in the UK. When he did not find a suitable car transporter, he did not purchase the used cars as planned, and for this reason was back en route to Romania with the full amount of money – this was his additional explanation.

During the interview by the experienced customs officers, the suspicion of a financial offence having been committed due to a breach of requirements on cash movements was confirmed. For travellers with EUR 10 000 or more in cash, a customs declaration is compulsory as soon as an EU border is crossed, in either direction.

As a result, EUR 6 300 was retained by the customs administration to cover the penalty arising from the resulting fiscal offence proceedings and procedural costs. Once the fine had been settled, the Romanians were allowed onward travel. "The increased border crossing controls by all executive organizations are now also uncovering those who perhaps otherwise felt too safe," declares Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, gratified at the successful controls by Austrian customs officers, adding that "the combating of illegal cash movements is particularly important in the fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism."