The Customs Department has used sniffer dogs since 1994. However, in 2017, the unit was restructured and currently has eight dog teams, which can detect a variety of illegal substances, together with tobacco and paper currency.
The Central Bank of Malta has sponsored the acquisition of a detection dog, which will be deployed by Customs to sniff for both paper currency as well as narcotics.
The dog that has been sponsored by the Central Bank of Malta, named Żekkin, is a two-year-old Labrador. This breed is one of the most popular species for detection dogs, although the Maltese Customs’ Unit, which also has Springer Spaniels. Dogs are used for the purpose of detection since their sense of smell is up to 40 times better than that of a human.
Żekkin was trained by the UK Border Force, considered to be a world leader in the training and management of detector dogs. He will be paired with a qualified Customs handler, similar to the other canines of the department.
After passing a rigorous selection test, dogs are usually signed up to the training programme when they are between one and two years old, and it takes at least eight weeks to train the dog in the UK, followed up by more training on its return to Malta, together with its handler. The new canine team then needs to successfully undertake an assessment before it is given an operational licence, which needs to be renewed every year following a test by the Border Force canine instructor.
Żekkin is a dual dog, so called because he is trained to detect both drugs and currency, in a variety of contexts, ranging from the airport and sea port, to postal depots and commercial outlets.
Like many other countries, Malta has a legal limit of €10,000 on the amount of undeclared cash that may be carried by a traveller arriving, leaving or transiting through the island. Travellers carrying with them an amount in excess of €10,000 are legally obliged to declare such amounts with the Customs Department before the start of their trip. This limit is aimed at curbing illicit activity, including the laundering of money sourced from illegal activities, and the financing of terrorism.