Arrests were made at Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL), Delhi, India, over the weekend following the discovery of a theft racket involving six baggage handlers and an accomplice. The accused are said to have worked together to steal luxury items from passengers’ luggage, with travellers raising concerns about stolen valuables only months earlier.
Caught In The Act – Theft Racket Uncovered At Delhi Airport
A theft racket was busted at India’s busiest airport, Indira Gandhi International Airport, over the weekend as six baggage handlers and an accomplice were arrested for their involvement in the theft of luxury jewellery items, electronic devices and foreign currency from passengers’ luggage.
The shock discovery comes as officials at the airport had noticed a suspicious increase in baggage thefts over the past year and had subsequently launched an investigation to determine who was responsible.
Suspicions of a possible theft racket were first aroused last month when a female passenger travelling from Melbourne, Australia, and arriving in Punjab, India, noticed upon arriving home that some of the gold valuables she had packed into her checked-in luggage had gone missing. Before making her connecting flight, the passenger was required to repack her overweight luggage and noted the strange manner in which the baggage handler helping her to repack her bags had watched her. The passenger reported the theft to the police, who then investigated the matter in cooperation with airport officials.
A similar incident also occurred a month before, in August, in which a passenger travelling from Delhi to Goa alleged that, upon landing in Goa, his luxury watch (valued at over £4,500) had been packed into his checked-in luggage earlier.
The Airport and Police Investigation
In response to concerns raised by the aforementioned passengers, as a part of their investigation, airport officials first examined staff rotas for the shifts during which items from passengers’ luggage had gone missing.
A police team was tasked with trawling through CCTV footage to find evidence of the thefts and interrogating workers present for the shifts during which the thefts had been reported. The police checked the mobile phones of the identified workers and found suspicious videos and WhatsApp messages discussing the monetary value of luxury goods found in passengers’ luggage and which bags to target.
One worker questioned by police later confessed to working with baggage handlers from other airlines to steal various items of jewellery and sell them for cash.
Following a police raid on the home of two of the accused (Manoj Kumar and Hari Darshan), the two men were arrested and then revealed the names of their accomplices, who were subsequently arrested. During the raid, police recovered 15 pieces of stolen jewellery, foreign currency from five different countries and luxury items, including a watch, a pair of sunglasses and two Apple AirPods.
The Criminal Gang Working At The Heart Of The Airport
Members of the criminal gang involved in the thefts include baggage handlers Manoj Kumar, Hari Darshan, Balwinder, Praveen Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, and Subodh and the receiver of the stolen goods, Satish Kumar Verma.
Manoj Kumar, the kingpin of the gang, is said to have specialised in identifying luggage that may contain valuables, in addition to stealing from passengers’ bags and suitcases, whilst other members of the gang are alleged to have been responsible for disposing of jewellery and other stolen items, distracting officials during frisk and search operations and delaying the loading and unloading of baggage from aircraft. The final member of the gang, Satish Kumar Verma, a jeweller, is accused of buying the stolen jewellery.
The baggage handlers were reportedly working for Air India and Vistara. Vistara has released a statement stating that it will fully cooperate with the ongoing police investigation, whereas Air India has stated that it will be launching an internal inquiry.
Another Major Risk Zone At Airports – Car Parks
Travellers remain at evident risk of having their possessions damaged or stolen as their luggage moves from the check-in desk to their destination; however, there is one other major at-risk zone at airports: car parks. Tales ranging from vehicles left at long-stay car parks being stolen to holidaymakers returning home from their trip to find that their cars have been driven miles have been reported over the years, and more recently, airports have had to take action to protect travellers and their possessions.
In August last year, Darwin International Airport (DRW), Australia, introduced additional foot, vehicle and dog patrols and bolstered its CCTV monitoring operations across its car parks following a dramatic surge in vehicle break-ins, vandalism and thefts. The airport, situated in Australia’s Northern Territory, responded to escalating complaints from passengers regarding a lack of sufficient safety measures to protect their vehicles.
The move was also seen as a necessary measure by both residents of the territory and key bodies such as Tourism Central Australia, who cited at the time that rising crime rates were putting off tourists from visiting and staying in key destinations in the territory, including Alice Springs, a town whose income is heavily reliant on tourism.
Despite moves such as the above, however, passengers must remain vigilant when transiting through airports and place valuable items in their hand luggage or, where possible, travel without them.
Are you shocked by the theft racket uncovered at Delhi Airport? Do you have concerns about your checked-in luggage when travelling? Let us know in the comments!