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Fun on Friday: Try Harder

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The last time I wrote about gold smuggling, I was impressed by the pain a man was willing to endure in order to hide gold from authorities. He literally stuck gold bars up his rear — two pounds of gold.


But today I have a different kind of smuggling story. It is impressive not because of the smugglers’ dedication and ingenuity, but their sheer laziness.

Generally, gold smugglers go to great lengths to hide their contraband – like sticking in their rectum.  There are less uncomfortable ways to smuggle gold. Officials say travelers returning to India often hide gold in chocolate boxes, purses, umbrellas and pens in an attempt to evade taxes.

But three smugglers nabbed in O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, weren’t about to go to the trouble of hiding gold. They just stuck it in their carry-ons and went on their merry way.

Now, it wasn’t just a few gold coins or a gold bar or two. Nope. These guys tucked 73.5 kilograms of gold in their carry-on bags. I’ll save you the trouble of conversion – that’s 162 pounds.

The gold was reportedly worth about $4.1 million.

Now, if you figure each guy probably carried about a third of the gold, that would mean each smuggler packed about 54 pounds of gold in their bag. That’s a pretty darn heavy carry-on. I mean, my wife can pack with the best of them. She can cram a bag full. But I’m certain she’s never stuffed 54 pounds in a carry-on.

Needless to say, three dudes toting 54-pound carry-on bags garnered some attention. According to the AP report, the trio “looked suspicious.”

Ya think?

“Upon questioning of the suspects and further inspection of their hand luggage, officials discovered the gold bars and some foreign currency,” police spokeswoman Col. Athlenda Mathe said.

Now, this is where the story gets a little interesting. According to the AP, the smugglers produced certification papers for the gold.

So, their papers were in order? If so, why are they considered “suspects?” Suspected of what?

According to the report, “There is a possibility that money laundering and fraud charges will be brought against the three accused at a later stage.”

It almost sounds like they haven’t necessarily done anything wrong, but government officials are going to find something they did wrong because then they can keep the $4.1 million worth of gold. I mean, cops seize money from people all the time in the US without even charging them with a crime. Traveling with “too much cash” will get you in trouble. Apparently, so will traveling with too much gold.

Now, to be fair, the three Madagascar nationals may well have committed a crime. The report just isn’t very clear. A lot of the time, gold smugglers are simply trying to evade taxes.

In fact, gold smuggling is a big business. And by business, I mean criminal enterprise. One report I read said gold is the fifth-most smuggled item in the world. It ranks higher than food, cigarettes, and cash. Unsurprisingly, drugs are the most common smuggled item. Exotic animals rank above gold as well. I wonder if anybody has ever tried to smuggle an exotic snail inside their butts?


Because people are nuts.

So, what’s the lesson here? Well, I don’t really have one. Maybe don’t smuggle gold? Or if you’re going to smuggle gold, don’t just stick it in your carry-on. I mean, make a little effort to hide it, right? Try harder!

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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About The Author

Michael Maharrey is the managing editor of the SchiffGold blog, and the host of the Friday Gold Wrap Podcast and It's Your Dime interview series.
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