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The customs service has been using sniffer dogs since 1994. However, in 2017 the unit was restructured and currently has eight dog teams, capable of detecting various illegal substances, as well as tobacco and paper money.
The Central Bank of Malta has sponsored the acquisition of a detection dog, which will be deployed by customs to sniff both paper money and narcotics.
The dog that was 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 owns Springer Spaniels. Dogs are used for detection because 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 officer, similar to other canines in the department.
After passing a rigorous selection test, dogs are usually enrolled in the training program when they are between one and two years old, and it takes at least eight weeks to train the dog in the UK, followed by additional training on his return to Malta, with his manager. The new canine team must then successfully undertake an assessment before receiving an operational license, which must be renewed annually after a test by the Border Force canine instructor.
Żekkin is a dual dog, so called because it is trained to detect both drugs and currency, in a variety of settings, from airports and seaports to postal depots and commercial outlets.
Like many other countries, Malta has a legal limit of € 10,000 on the amount of undeclared money that can be carried by a traveler arriving, departing or transiting through the island. Travelers taking with them an amount greater than € 10,000 are legally required to declare these amounts to the customs service before the start of their journey. This limit is intended to curb illicit activities, including money laundering from illegal activities and the financing of terrorism.