Tempting for airline crew to smuggle items

Air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha (top) of Jet Airways was held for trying to smuggle US$500,000 in cash out of India in her luggage. A Singapore Airlines senior steward was arrested in India for attempting to smuggle gold into the country.
A Singapore Airlines senior steward was arrested in India for attempting to smuggle gold into the country. PHOTO: HINDUSTAN TIMES
Air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha (top) of Jet Airways was held for trying to smuggle US$500,000 in cash out of India in her luggage. A Singapore Airlines senior steward was arrested in India for attempting to smuggle gold into the country.
Air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha of Jet Airways was held for trying to smuggle US$500,000 in cash out of India in her luggage. PHOTO: SCREEN GRAB FROM YOUTUBE

A scheduled flight out of Singapore became a smuggling mission when its chief steward turned up for work with over 100 packs of cigarettes.

He distributed them among his junior crew, to avoid suspicion. Afraid to defy him, they did as told.

When they landed, he collected all the cigarettes and sold them to a local restaurant for a tidy profit of several hundred dollars, said a cabin crew member with a Singapore carrier who asked not to be named. Recounting the incident of a few years ago, he said: "The chief steward was lucky; he was never caught."

But luck ran out last week for a Singapore Airlines (SIA) senior steward. He was arrested by Indian Customs officers at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi for attempting to smuggle gold into the country. The steward had worn a chain and bangle valued at about $65,000 under his uniform, with the intention of handing the gold jewellery to an agent at a prominent hotel in Delhi.

It is believed that he would have received about $500 in return.

Security experts told The Straits Times that airline crew are usually not subjected to the same stringent checks and screening that travellers are put through.

Mr Chris Bala, managing director of Singapore-based CJ Security Consulting, which provides training and consultancy in aviation security, noted that the authorities in Singapore are strict.

Air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha (top) of Jet Airways was held for trying to smuggle US$500,000 in cash out of India in her luggage. A Singapore Airlines senior steward was arrested in India for attempting to smuggle gold into the country.
Air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha (above) of Jet Airways was held for trying to smuggle US$500,000 in cash out of India in her luggage. PHOTO: SCREEN GRAB FROM YOUTUBE

But at some airports, pilots and cabin crew are rarely subjected to searches because they are deemed to be "trusted" professionals.

"Because of this, there is always a risk of them being used as couriers by agents, or of them buying restricted or prohibited items for their own use or for friends in countries they fly regularly to," he said.

Mr Jason Tan, 40, a cabin crew member with a Singapore carrier for seven years until he moved to the cruise industry in 2016, agrees.

"Customs checks are relatively rare for crew. I used to fly regularly to India, China and Hong Kong and never once were my bags checked."

Current crew, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are seldom, if ever, stopped. Said a senior steward: "It is the perceived low risk and tempting offers that can sometimes entice cabin crew to try their luck. Even if you make just a few hundred dollars each time, multiply that by 20, 30 flights and the total can add up to be substantial."

For those who are caught, the consequences are serious.

Last Wednesday, a British court sentenced former Emirates steward Zohaab Sadique to eight years' jail for attempting to smuggle £100,000 (S$185,300) worth of heroin into the country.

He was caught after he flew from Dubai into Manchester Airport on an Emirates flight in January last year.

Earlier this month, another cabin crew member - this time Jet Airways air stewardess Devshi Kulshreshtha - was nabbed for trying to smuggle nearly US$500,000 (S$653,800) in cash out of India in her luggage. She was arrested following a tip-off.

Despite the recent spate of arrests, cases involving Singapore-based crew are rare, sources told The Straits Times.

Mr Alan Tan, president of the Singapore Airlines Staff Union - SIA's biggest union, which represents cabin crew - said: "Our crew are aware that we expect the best conduct from them. They are also reminded they should not carry items, especially restricted goods, for people; or buy items overseas for sale back home."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2018, with the headline Tempting for airline crew to smuggle items. Subscribe