Gold smuggling racketeers have once again commenced using Flight Attendants of SriLankan Airlines as mules to smuggle gold into the country.
A 27 year old former Mihin Lanka Flight Steward Meewala Arachchige Chanuka, who recently joined SriLankan Airlines after the airlines merged, confessed to Custom Officers when he was apprehended a few days ago, that he was promised a sum of Rs 40, 000 for carrying the 6.5 kilo grams of gold valued at Rs 35 million.
This reported apprehension is now been taken very seriously by Customs Officers as in the past certain Flight Attendants of the national carrier were used as mules to assist gold smugglers in various ways to traffic gold into the country.
The smuggling syndicates had previously roped in many staff by offering then hefty sums as rewards, especially those that had access to the aircraft.
Several staff including Flight Attendants, Catering staff, Cleaning staff and the ramp Bus Drivers were all part of a mafia style syndicate who were frequently used for these illegal operations.
A senior airline staff member with over three decades of experience speaking to Colombo Telegraph revealed as to how airline staff were involved in assisting in the operation in the past. Speaking on condition of anonymity as he is barred from speaking to the media said “Once the passenger brings the gold on board the aircraft, a Flight Attendant would be instructed by the passenger to either hide the contraband in certain parts of the aircraft, which would then be removed by either the Catering or Cleaning staff who boards the aircraft after its arrival”.
“On certain occasions the Flight Attendant assisting the smugglers would be asked to leave the gold inside the Ramp Bus that is used to shuttle the Flight Deck and Flight Attendants from the aircraft to the terminal building. The ramp Bus Driver would do the needful thereafter” he went on to say.
As the risk factors in these two instances are minimal so are the rewards.
He went on to add “However the reward payment is much higher if a Flight Attendant is willing to personally smuggle the gold out of the airport by himself. This is when a passenger would bring the gold on board the aircraft and also hand it over to a Flight Attendant. The gold bars would be neatly concealed in pouches and sewn into a Velcro belt. The Flight Attendant would then strap the belt around his torso and further cover up the tightly strapped contraband by wearing his uniform jacket over it when exiting the airport”.
Meanwhile a source at the Custom Office told Colombo Telegraph “We were lucky to nab this employee from SriLankan Airlines as we got delayed to come in time to meet the incoming crew upon its arrival. However after we heard that the entire crew had departed for their respective homes in the company provided staff transport, we managed to contact the airline and obtain the telephone number of the transport provider. We then contacted the driver of the bus and found out the exact location he was at and managed to intercept the smuggler with the gold, whilst he was on his way. However after his apprehension he was asked to pay a penalty of Rs 2 million and we let him go after we confiscated the gold”.
SriLankan Airlines officials wished to remain tight lipped when contacted for a comment.
However sources within In Flight Services confirmed that their Management had obtained two written statements from the Flight Stewardesses who were travelling in the same bus as the apprehended smuggler and that the management had already commenced an internal inquiry.
Meanwhile Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that several Flight Attendants have either been terminated from service after been nabbed for smuggling cigarettes into Paris and London.
In the two last reported cases involving the smuggling of cigarettes, a Cabin Manager and Flight Stewardess purchased 50 cartons of cigarettes at the departure duty free on their way to Paris. However on arrival into Paris they were forewarned by the Paris station staff that French Customs Officers were searching the bags of all incoming Flight Crew that day. Fearing that they would be caught the Cabin Manager and Stewardess decided to leave the 50 cartons of cigarettes which were transported in the valise of the Cabin Manager on board prior to disembarking. However information regarding this incident was leaked to the management of the airline who subsequently terminated the services of these two Crew Members after holding an inquiry.
In the last reported incident a Cabin Manager pre-ordered 20 cartons of cigarettes using the duty free purchase facility accorded to passengers. He ordered these cartons of cigarettes by calling the airline and posing as a travelling passenger. However on his arrival into London Heathrow, he was nabbed by UK Customs Officers when a spot check was been conducted and a further 30 cartons of cigarettes was found in his luggage. He was deported by the UK Customs Officials and sent back to Colombo on the same aircraft. Incidentally his sister also a former Sri Lankan Airlines Stewardess and who subsequently worked for Emirates Airline was also caught smuggling Rs 700,000 stuffed in pineapples out of Colombo. In her case she was nabbed when she was travelling as a passenger back to Dubai.
The senior airline staff member conclude by saying “This entire gold smuggling incident has opened a can of worms and has brought about too much shame for us airline professionals who have served SriLankan Airlines dedicatedly for over 30 years. Our reputation is simply just going to the dogs now. We not only have Flight Attendants who are smugglers, we currently have a captain who was also absorbed from Mihin Lanka who is evading arrest in Singapore for shoplifting. He has been protected by the senior management of the airline who has repeatedly refused to roster him on any flights to Singapore fearing his arrest on arrival for evading his shoplifting court case. We also have many bootleggers among our Cabin Crew who take advantage of the 25% staff discount for duty free purchase on board and supply all the reputed night clubs in Sri Lanka. So now literally we have been branded as smugglers, shoplifters and bootleggers”. (By Janaka Ranaweera)