A High Court judge has made it clear that ignorance of the law is no excuse as she ordered that an entrepreneur forfeit just under half of the US currency he was attempting to take out of the country without permission over a decade ago.
Greg Anderson Oneal Morris, 43, of Regency Park, Christ Church and Fair View, Christ Church, admitted that he attempted to export from Barbados US$59 150 – equivalent to BDS$118 300 – in his baggage on March 11, 2012, without the permission of the Exchange Control Authority.
Of that amount, Madam Justice Pamela Beckles on Thursday ordered that Morris forfeit BDS$50 000.
“Foreign currency plays a significant role in today’s globalised world where it can be used to finance development projects, stimulate economic growth and improve a country’s balance of payment. It is, therefore, a crucial aspect of the economy, especially in small countries like Barbados. Non-compliance with the Exchange Control Authority’s rules and regulations can have severe consequences on the stability of the economy of a country,” she stated.
Morris was at the Grantley Adams International Airport in one of the check-in lines when police approached him and arrested him on suspicion of having a large sum of stolen money.
When searched, the currency was discovered, and he responded, “Gittens, that is money I gine shop wid, and that is gold I buy.”
Morris insisted when interviewed by police: “That is my money from my business that I did gine to shop wid, and that is gold I had to sell.”
A search of the records at Corporate Affairs showed Morris had a business registered under the name Swagga.
He told the No. 5 Supreme Court recently that he “didn’t know the correct procedure”, and explained that he had two stores at that time and “travelling with money was something I did”. However, he conceded that he went about it the wrong way.
However, Justice Beckles said ignorance of the law was no excuse.
“In 2012, you were a budding entrepreneur who owned several clothing retail stores and were attempting to leave the island to purchase merchandise for these stores when you were apprehended with the foreign currency. You stated that you were not aware that you needed to seek permission to take such a large sum of money out of the island and that it was never your intention to deliberately flout the law of the land. Ignorance of the law, however, is not a defence and, therefore, why we are here now,” she said.
The judge ruled that there was no need to impose a custodial sentence on Morris and that the interest of justice could be met by the forfeiture of a significant portion of the funds seized.
She then ordered that the first-time offender give up BDS$50 000 to the state. Morris was also placed on a bond to keep the peace for 18 months.
“This bond is not to be recorded as a conviction, but it is still a way for the court to monitor your actions for a period of time,” said Justice Beckles who told Morris that she looked forward to seeing Swagga and Swagga Kids back in business.
Morris then told the court: “I think there should be a way that people know how much money they suppose to travel with . . . . I ask people and people thinking it is like US$10 000.”
He was, however, told that he could contact the Central Bank of Barbados for the information or go on the bank’s website.