While unpacking at his New Delhi residence in April 2008, former chief of the Central Bureau of Investi-gation Joginder Singh found his digital camera worth Rs 20,000 and iPod worth Rs 15,000 missing from the baggage that he had checked in at the Mumbai airport.
Even as the Mumbai airport reported the second highest number of such thefts — 37— in 2008, Crime Branch officials on Tuesday arrested four loaders with Cambatta Aviation for allegedly stealing valuables from luggage.
The officials claimed that loaders Nitin Nevadkar, Santosh Lad, Shailesh Gundal and Dnyaneshwar Chauhan, who were engaged with ground handling for several international airlines, have been involved in 60 cases of theft since 2006.
The officials have recovered stolen goods like jewellery, cellphones and cameras worth Rs 11 lakh from them. However, the four claim to have brought the items from duty-free stores.
“The goods mainly belonged to international fliers visiting the city,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria. “One of them [accused] would enter the container carrying the baggage while it was being moved to the conveyor belt.”
They would then use a pen to break open the lock, pick up valuables and repack the baggage. “So a person would find out about the missing valuables only after reaching home,” Maria added.
“It is a scary situation. Despite spending a bomb your baggage is still not safe,” said Sudhakar Reddy, national president of the Air Passenger Association of India.
While Nevadkar, identified as the mastermind of the racket, is facing a trial in 1999 baggage theft case, Gundal was booked in an extortion case in 2000. “How could the firm hire an undertrial?” asked Reddy.
The bureau of civil aviation security mandate states that a person working in a sensitive area like the airfield could be hired only after procuring a background clearance certificate issued by the police.
Crime Branch officials suspect more people, including airport officials, could be part of this racket. “We have 22 suspects,” said an official, requesting anonymity.
The four have been remanded to police custody till Wednesday.