By Aisha Tamba
One of Spain’s leading newspapers has reported that in 2019 alone Gambian passengers took 73.4 million euros through Spanish airports to The Gambia.
El Pais quoting Spanish custom sources reported that The Gambia is the top destination for all currency taken out of Spain. In Spain, a passenger taking more than 10,000 euros in cash has to declare the money to customs and the procedure does not involve paying taxes or fines of any kind.
The paper said in 2019, about 2,179 Gambian passengers took the equivalent of more than D4 billion (at the prevailing exchange rate) out of Spanish airports, a new record following a decade of growth.
A Barcelona flight operated by Vueling, the largest airline in Spain, is the only direct link between continental Europe and The Gambia, which explains why Gambians from all parts of the continent come to the Catalan capital to catch it.
“The currency does not come from Spain alone, but from countries all over Europe. A few years ago Europol issued an alert following a request by Spanish authorities. The first countries to respond were Germany, France, Switzerland and Finland, which all detected large amounts of money being taken out by Gambian passengers,” the report noted.
On the last day of July this year, 15 passengers declared currency worth a collective 255,885 euros. Muhamadou Darboe, 50, who works in metal carpentry in Santa Coloma (Barcelona), was carrying an envelope with 11,500 euros and said most of it was given to him by Gambian friends in Catalonia so he could distribute it among relatives back home. ‘When I get to my village, Demba Kunda, I will call people up and they will come to my house to collect it,’ he said.
Other passengers gave other reasons to justify the cash they were carrying – from funding a relative’s trip to Mecca to building a house in their home village.
In late July police stopped a Gambian passenger carrying 200,000 euros on a flight from Casablanca in Morocco. The man was unable to justify ownership of this amount, and it was confiscated.
International organisations that fight money laundering believe that The Gambia is a high-risk country in terms of drug and medication smuggling, arms trafficking and illegal immigration. Investigators who have analysed the currency traffic between Spain and The Gambia believe there is an organised criminal structure in place to export money presumably obtained through criminal means, according to a high-ranking official at the Tax Agency who spoke to El País.
According to trade statistics, Spain exports 23.5 million euros of goods to The Gambia a year, while The Gambia exports less than 4 million euros to Madrid.