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Recently, while returning from St Petersburg to New Delhi via Almaty in Kazakhstan, our family had a rather bizarre experience. Before querying anything, I would like to sum up the situation -

Event 1

Our family of three checks-in at St Petersberg Pulkovo airport. At the last moment, we decided to take one of the checked-in baggage as a carry-on. While doing it, we forgot that the bag had a knife with 1-inch blade.

Event 2

The bag passes the screening at St Petersberg airport. We land in Almaty after 5 hours. During transiting, the knife is discovered in the bag and we are stopped. Normally when this happens, the officials just throw the prohibited items but the officials at the screening checkpoint decide to call the police.

Event 3

The police arrive and asks one of us to claim the bag. My mother claims it and her passport is taken by them. We start to worry a bit at this point. They return with a form titled “Protocol Exemption”. We sit with a Kazakh/Russian speaking policeman who fills the form in Russian. When my father expressed his concerns about what the form was about and what was being written on it, the policemen keeps repeating “ I am police ” and “ Law section 38 and 40 " with a stern look. Our requests for a translator are ignored. Finally, after being harassed and mystified for 15 minutes, we are let off after we sign the form.

Though I understand it was our fault of not checking the stuff in the bag before taking it as a carry on. I have few questions regarding the situation :-

  1. Why wasn’t the knife taken out at Russian airport ? Is it because the officers failed to discover it or it is due to the fact that knives only larger than particular size are banned in carry-on baggage in Russia ?
  2. As I had experienced before this trip, prohibited items in the baggage are often thrown. Were we made to sign only because we were in transit and had completed one part of journey with the knife in carry on baggage ?
  3. Can carrying a prohibited item result in detention or arrest ? It would be great if anyone can explain this with respect to Kazakh law.
  4. Was the policeman interested in taking bribe by intimidating us ?

EDIT: Attached is the piece of paper issued to us after the matter got resolved.

Image of Counterfoil of Protocol issued at Almaty Airport

EDIT 2:

  1. Will this incident result in extra scrutiny by the Kazakh officials or those from CIS countries if the passenger visits in future ? In other words, are such incidents kept in record books ?
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    "Was the policeman interested in taking bribe by intimidating us ?" - this might need to be removed because it's opinion based. My opinion is of course yes but then again I am biased. – chx May 1 '17 at 8:05
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    Being in transit does not absolve you from your actions that violate the laws of the country in which you are transiting. You are on their soil, in their airport, under their jurisdiction. Being "in transit" simply means you can't leave the airport sterile area and enter any other part of that country. – user13044 May 1 '17 at 9:55
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    "I am Police. Law Section 38 and 40" probably just means, "I barely speak a word of English so I don't understand what you're saying to me and I can't explain in any more detail." There's not a lot that he can do in that situation, if no translators are available. – David Richerby May 1 '17 at 12:01
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    Why wasn’t the knife taken out at Russian airport? I once flew from Denver to Orlando with a Leatherman multi-tool with a 3" blade in my carry-on which was only discovered by security on my way back at Orlando international security check in. This in a country pouring billions into DHS and in a constant state of panic about terrorism... what did you expect security would be like in Russia? – Dean Kuga May 1 '17 at 22:19
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    I'm kind of surprised no one is trying to explain what the "Law section 38 and 40" means. Surely, this refers to some specific statute. – jpmc26 May 1 '17 at 22:25
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Why wasn’t the knife taken out at Russian airport ?

Probably because they missed it during screening. Airport security has been known to miss actual explosives in peoples bags, so a tiny knife is not a particular surprise.

Were we made to sign only because we were in transit

You were forced to sign a paper because Kazakhstan and the surrounding countries are extremely bureaucratic and probably require some sort of paperwork to remove forbidden items from passengers.

Can carrying a prohibited item result in detention or arrest ?

Of course it can, especially if you're carrying something illegal like drugs. However a small knife is extremely unlikely to bring any sort of trouble.

Was the policeman interested in taking bribe by intimidating us ?

Policemen aren't known for their friendly demeanor in that region. Just because someone talks to you impolitely doesn't mean they're asking for a bribe. It's quite unlikely that someone would demand a bribe in plain sight at an international airport, especially for such a minor offense.

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    +1 The paperwork may be an anti-corruption move so that they can't easily just steal things from passengers by claiming they are forbidden. – Spehro Pefhany May 1 '17 at 11:28
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  1. Either the knife was not noticed, or the blade was considered short enough to pass under Russian rules. This is irrelevant though: just because I can legally bring an apple through security in Singapore doesn't mean Customs is obliged to let it through in Australia.
  2. The consequences of having prohibited items depends on local law and the discretion of the screeners. Being in transit is irrelevant.
  3. Absolutely: even in transit, you are subject to Kazakh law. For example, Singapore regularly executes drug smugglers caught in transit.
  4. Possibly, although if so, I would have expected them to hint at this. Bribery is also difficult if there are multiple officers and security cameras etc involved, which would be the case at an airport.
  5. Highly unlikely. The confiscation was carried out by airport security, you were not arrested or charged with a crime.
  • Do you have a citation for the claim that the TSA allows blades, like knives? The only mention I was able to see was an allowance for scissors (not knives), shorter than 4 inches. – Ethan Kaminski May 1 '17 at 11:54
  • @EthanKaminski The "sharp objects" section of the TSA's What can I bring? page agrees with you. As I recall, there was some discussion of relaxing the rules amount small knives (e.g., penknives) a few years ago, possibly resulting in different agencies having different policies (e.g., the FAA being OK with small knives but the TSA not, or the TSA being OK with them but somebody higher up saying no). – David Richerby May 1 '17 at 12:06
  • @EthanKaminski D'oh, you're right, looks like proposed changes in 2013 to allow knifes were cancelled. Edited answer accordingly. – jpatokal May 1 '17 at 12:12
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    @LorenPechtel Maybe people taping packs of drugs to their thighs and transiting through airport security aren't the brightest bulbs in the box in the first place. Ignorance isn't much of an excuse though, since the Singapore immigration arrival card has a nice warning in bold red letters about death for drug traffickers: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/… – jpatokal May 2 '17 at 6:18
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    @DavidRicherby TSA and FAA were actually ok with it. It was the flight attendants' union that complained and got the proposed rule cancelled. TSA wanted the change because they were (and are) wasting way too much of their time dealing with small knives that don't actually pose a threat in a post-9/11 world rather than looking for actual threats. – reirab May 2 '17 at 16:31
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While I certainly understand your concerns about signing something you don't understand, in this particular case it's nothing to worry about.

Obviously, full name of the passenger, flight number, details and signature of the person who made [sic] the protocol are obvious. The parts in Russian say:

Flight number 907 on the route Deli
Found and seized knife 1 item (KNIFE)

Now, to answer your questions...

Why wasn’t the knife taken out at Russian airport ?

Most likely, security just missed it. You yourself said that it was a small knife - the security person in Pulkovo could have been tired or for any other reason missed it - that's all to it.

Were we made to sign only because we were in transit and had completed one part of journey with the knife in carry on baggage?

This had nothing to do with transit. You were required to sign a piece of paper confirming that an item was seized. If you didn't sign it, you could then claim that this item was stolen by security personnel or what not. This way, there is a proof - both for you and the airport personnel that a prohibited item was seized from you.

Can carrying a prohibited item result in detention or arrest?

It certainly could. Note that while in any airport, you are within the Jurisdiction of the country where the airport is located. Now, if restricted means illegal in the country, then absolutely, you can (and most likely will be) arrested, charged with possession of illegal items - and the police/courts would take it from there. If on the other hand it means prohibited in hand luggage but otherwise legal, then very unlikely.

Was the policeman interested in taking bribe by intimidating us?

Extremely unlikely. The more likely scenario was that he was just annoyed that you were wasting his time, as he was simply following a standard protocol, dealing with something probably boring (in his police view, maybe) and wanted to be done with this.

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If they wanted a bribe, they would typically say you have to pay a fine. Then you would discover that actually paying the fine requires you to do something that is incompatible with your journey (like obtaining a form from the bank, which would make you miss your next flight). Of course, they would offer you an already filled form right in the airport, but you'd have to pay in cash and get no receipt.

Your incident doesn't look like an attempt to get a bribe, the airport officials were simply annoyed that they had to spend time on these forms, which would explain the rudeness. They also refused to call you an interpreter since they decided you didn't need one for a simple item seizure protocol.

Unfortunately, you weren't told sections 38 and 40 of which law were applied to you, so it's hard to say what repercussions the incident may have on your future trips. Considering your knife was simply seized and no fine or court presence was due, I would hazard a guess that there will be none.

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    There is a clue in the image attached by OP - "Protocol No 540". A Google search of this, with some other keywords got me to this: gratanet.com/up_files/AV17_Chapter-14_Kazakhstan.pdf which suggests the travelers were detained for "breach by the passenger of the Passenger Transportation Rules and/or actions of the passenger that may influence the safety of the flight;" (see page 101). Could not find any reference to "section 38 and 40", but it seems like Kazakhstan "Air Transportation Rules" refers to a larger document, that I was unable to find. – CactusCake May 2 '17 at 16:45
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    @CactusCake That document seems to specify when a passenger can be denied boarding, not sure if it's related to the OP's case. – Dmitry Grigoryev May 2 '17 at 17:11

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