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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Acting on information garnered by undercover agents, police raided two airport employees' houses overnight on Monday, and discovered thousands of shekels worth of items believed stolen from travelers' suitcases at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
The investigation began after police received a multitude of complaints from travelers that expensive items, including electronics, jewelry, perfume and even cash had been stolen from suitcases that had been checked-in at the airport. The police investigation was mainly undercover, and lasted for over a month before it was made public.
Ch.-Supt. Yisrael Klein, head of investigations for the Ben-Gurion Subdistrict, said the thieves were airport employees who were part of the teams that loaded and unloaded airplanes' cargo. The MO was simple: the workers would enter the cargo hold of the plane together with the suitcases, and would begin to open bags, searching for anything of value. It was difficult, Klein said, to say how many people were robbed, because while some thefts were reported to police, others were reported to airline companies, who reimbursed the passengers for their losses, and still other incidents went unreported.
Police searched the Lod house of a 30-year-old airplane-loading team leader Monday night, and discovered a veritable warehouse of goods believed to be stolen, including 10 cellular phones, 10 digital cameras, two watches and eight sets of sunglasses. The suspect, who is a longtime Airports Authority employee, was arrested Monday and his remand was extended until Thursday. A second search on Tuesday at the house of another suspect also revealed similar caches of valuable property.
Klein said police suspected that most of the goods were resold for drastically reduced prices in Israel. Jewelry, he said, had probably been melted.
While he would not say how many suspects were involved in the case, Klein said additional arrests are expected. The senior detective added that the suspects seemed to have frequently worked together as members of the same loading teams. While not all team members were necessarily involved in the theft, many were complicit in its cover-up.
"There is no way that you could have worked with them and not known what was going on," Klein explained. "There is no real difference between what they did and what a lookout does in a break-in."
Baggage thefts, according to Klein, "are a phenomenon that comes and goes every few years." But the scale of this round-up was expected to have a larger impact and deterrent effect.
"We hope that after such treatment, the phenomenon will be reduced almost to zero."
Following the initial publication of the arrest, police received a flood of complaints from travelers who claimed to have fallen victim to the theft ring. Police have been sorting through the almost 100 calls received Tuesday, and were taking testimony from the callers, some of whom dialed the police from overseas. In the coming days, police said, the possessions discovered in the thieves' houses would be returned to the victims.
People who believe they may have been robbed by the Ben-Gurion baggage gang are asked to contact police at: 03-9715444.
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