LATE last month, three Singaporeans were caught and charged with allegedly attempting to smuggle some M$100,000 (HK$50,000) worth of Malaysian bank notes across the causeway into Singapore stuffed in the air filter of their car. Days earlier, a middle-aged Malaysian woman was seized for having failed to declare M$5,192 and S$320 (HK$1,500) allegedly hidden in her travelling bag as she returned from Singapore. Since October 2, when Malaysia's new currency controls came into full force, 175 people have been temporarily detained at the Singapore-Johore border and had their cash seized. But Johore Bahru Customs director Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid insists the number of people being caught is fast dwindling as travellers become more familiar with Malaysia's tough, new currency laws. 'They don't have to smuggle,' Mr Abdul Rahman says. 'All they have to do is declare the money.' Between 40,000 and 80,000 people stream across the busy border each day in both directions to work, shop, study or play - in the past with little worry. Now, anyone caught carrying more than M$1,000 in the Malaysian currency into or out of the country without permission risks a maximum three-year prison sentence or a fine of up to 10 times the amount confiscated. Local residents are also barred from holding foreign currency notes or travellers' cheques equivalent to more than M$10,000 when leaving the country. For minor offences, anyone caught has their money seized and is then sent to a new central bank branch in Johore Bahru to argue why they should be given their money back. In most cases, it is returned with little more than a stern look - and a quick lecture. So far, just two cases have been referred to the courts. The capital controls announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on September 1 made the Malaysian dollar worthless abroad. All currency overseas had to be repatriated by October 1, after which it would no longer be honoured. More than M$3.9 billion has since been brought back. Teething problems have largely been caused by people who left it too late to legitimately return their money - and subsequently resorted to creative and subversive ways of sneaking cash in.