The SAPS secured a major victory in the fight against aviation crime following a joint operation between themselves and ground handler Menzies Aviation, which recently saw five men convicted and receiving lengthy jail time.
The Kempton Park Regional Court in Johannesburg found the men - some of them former Menzies employees and some of them employees of an international security company with a strong local presence - guilty of theft, and sentenced each to seven years imprisonment.
This follows incidents on two nights in September and October 2010, when the men colluded to steal imported Nokia mobile phones estimated at close to R320 000. It was charged that the Menzies employees colluded with two security officers from another company to steal the shipment from an Ethiopian Airlines flight, after which the phones were sold on to a man known only as Mr Sunday.
On 23 November 2010, the alleged perpetrators were arrested and detained, after an internal investigation by Menzies. At the same time as the men were going through a disciplinary procedure and dismissed, a criminal case was registered with the OR Tambo SAPS, which ultimately resulted in the successful convictions in an industry notorious for its high levels of sophistication.
Forsyth Black, senior vice-president of Menzies Aviation for Africa, the Middle East and India, says the company has always taken a zero-tolerance stance towards allegations of criminality, ensuring that all complaints and incidents are thoroughly investigated and followed by disciplinary steps and prosecutions where necessary.
"As a global operator, we continuously seek to ensure that we raise the bar in terms of safety and security of all our operations throughout the world. We also recognise the importance of assisting the police in building solid, prosecutable cases if the war on crime in the industry is to be won," says Black.
Investigating another case
The arrests come as police are investigating another racket which resulted in 12 luggage handlers being fired by other airport operators at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. The scam saw international travellers charged excess baggage fees when their bags were in fact within limit.
Black says Menzies' zero tolerance approach appears to be having a positive knock-on effect on approaches to crime by the wider industry. "We hope we can continue to be a driver for improved standards in the entire airline industry. We want to send out a strong message to all criminals that we will work closely with the police to ensure our airline clients and all who travel can rest assured that their luggage and safety will not be compromised."