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Security breached on PM?s special flight

india Updated: Jul 11, 2006 00:59 IST
ARUN Kumar

Whisky goes missing from cabinet, captain and crew claim bottles in their luggage their own, investigators not convinced

AIR-INDIA One’s security has been breached. The security agencies have reported a serious lapse on board when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Germany in April. As the finger points to A-I officials, who allegedly pilfered liquor bottles by breaking a sealed cabinet, the airline's security officer is untraceable. The Civil Aviation Ministry has come down on the “irresponsible behaviour” of A-I management.

On April 24, after attending the Indo-German Business Summit in Hanover, Singh was flying to Berlin. As the A-I flight was readying for takeoff from the Hanover airport, the Special Protection Group detected an anomaly: the security seal of one of the cabinets on board had been broken. This amounted to a serious violation on a VVIP flight. Nothing was planted in the cabinet but some bottles of whisky had gone missing.

When the baggage of A-I officials and crew were checked during the X-ray scanning, it was found that 14 of them were carrying 29 bottles of whisky. Captain Naresh Kumar Beri and air-hostess Lima Thapa had five bottles each.

Civil Aviation secretary Ajay Prasad has come down strongly on the delay on the part of the Air-India management in reporting the issue. In a communication (dated June 26) he said, “The Air-India management takes two months to send a note to the ministry on the serious security lapse which took place on a VVIP flight in April 2006. It is indicative of the fact that such matters are not taken seriously by the Air-India management.”

When the airline officials said they could not trace the security officer as he had gone on leave, Prasad retorted: “The escorting officer is deputy general manager (security) of Air-India. If any serious effort was made to bring him back, an enquiry could have taken place without any loss of time.” He added:

“It seems the pursuers etc, all have been completely cavalier and irresponsible in their behaviour.”

A senior official of A-I refused to comment, saying the matter involved VVIP flights. He, however, said there was no security lapse. On the issue of the seal being broken, he said the investigation report was due shortly and the airline would take stern action.

Meanwhile, during vigilance interrogation, Beri, who is also A-I’s resident director in Delhi, admitted to carrying five bottles of whisky. But he said he had bought them. If that is so, then it amounts to smuggling as the laws do not permit a person on board to carry more than two bottles of liquor.