SINGAPORE — Two former customer service associates at Changi Airport were jailed on Friday (26 April) for taking bribes from Scoot Tigerair passengers in return for under-reporting the weight of their baggage in a flight check-in computer system.
Gerizim Kirubai Raj Deved, a 35-year-old Singaporean, was jailed for seven weeks while Ayyadurai Karunanithi, a 47-year-old Singapore permanent resident, was jailed for nine weeks.
The men were also ordered to pay a penalty of $630 and $500, respectively. The amounts comprised the kickbacks they had pocketed.
If they fail to pay the amount, they will have to spend another week behind bars.
The court heard that the duo’s graft crimes came to light following The New Paper‘s report in July last year on a baggage-touting syndicate operating in Changi Airport. The report revealed that people would approach passengers and offer to have their excess baggage charges waived in return for cash.
The two were among five men who had been charged earlier this month for taking and receiving bribes in relation to under-reporting the weight of passengers’ baggage.
Took bribes from frequent flyer
Gerizim worked for SATS Asia-Star from 4 January 2016 to 26 July last year. The company is a ground handling service provider and a subsidiary of SATS, Changi Airport’s chief ground-handling and in-flight catering service provider.
Between January and July last year, Gerizim got at least $630 in bribes from a person known as Gajendran Ramesh.
Gerizim was approached by Ramesh in January last year at a smoking point at the arrival floor at Changi Airport Terminal 2. Ramesh was a frequent traveller on Scoot flights from Singapore to Tiruchirappalli, India, and the duo recognised each other.
Ramesh said he was a trader who bought electronic and IT products in Singapore and brought them to Malaysia to sell. He told Gerizim that the excess baggage charges were very expensive and asked for help in waiving off the charges in return for cash.
At the time, Scoot charged $20 per kilogram of excess baggage for short and medium haul flights, and $30 per kilogram for long haul flights. Customer service agents are allowed to waive excess baggage charges for up to one kilogram of excess baggage only.
Gerizim and Ramesh agreed that the the frequent flyer would pay the check-in agent $3 per kilogram that he under-reported in the check-in system.
“Thereafter, whenever Ramesh flew from Singapore to Tiruchirappalli, which was about once every two weeks, he would contact the accused to inform him, and the accused would tell him which check-in counter he was working,” Deputy Public Prosector David Koh said.
Gerizim would then under-report Ramesh’s passenger baggage weight in the check-in system such that it would fall within the baggage allowance he had purchased.
“Generally, Ramesh would purchase 40 kilograms of baggage allowance, but his passenger baggage would exceed this by 15 to 20 kilograms. As such, the accused would receive $45 to $60 from Ramesh on each occasion where he under-reported the baggage weight for Ramesh, as per their agreement,” said the prosecutor.
After the check-in process, Gerizim would meet Ramesh at the smoking point to collect money. They chose the location as it was discreet.
Ramesh is currently outside of Singapore.
Approached at MRT station
Ayyadurai worked for UBTS, a logistics service provider, from 26 December 2013 to 25 July last year. UBTS supplies manpower to SATS.
Between April and May last year, Ayyadurai allegedly got at least $500 in bribes from a person known as Saravanan Muthuraja.
Around 8 April last year, Ayyadurai was approached by Muthu at the Changi Airport MRT station. Muthu told Ayyadurai that he and his friends flew by Scoot to India at least thrice a week and asked if the latter could help them. Ayyadurai rejected the offer.
A few days later on 12 April, Muthu approached Ayyadurai while he was on duty at the Scoot check-in counter. Muthu was heading to Trichy, India.
Ayyadurai weighed Muthu’s baggage and found it overweight by five kilograms. Muthu pleaded with Ayyadurai to waive the excess baggage charges and the latter agreed as he felt sympathy for Muthu.
About one hour later, after Ayyadurai finished his shift and clocked out of the SATS office, he saw Muthu waiting for him outside the office.
Muthu pushed $30 into Ayyadurai’s pocket then left, saying he was rushing for a flight. Ayyadurai understood that the money was for waiving the excess baggage charges.
About three days later, Muthu approached Ayyadurai at the check-in counter again with a friend. Muthu told Ayyadurai that his friend was heading to Trichy, and asked for help to waive the excess baggage charges.
Later that day, Muthu passed at least $15 to Ayyadurai. Muthu also got his mobile number.
Two days later, Muthu texted Ayyadurai to ask for baggage charges for a friend to be waived.
Thereafter, Muthu would call or text Ayyadurai every two or three days regarding waiving excess baggage charges for passengers.
Sometimes, Muthu would approach Ayyadurai at the counter with a passenger, while other times, a passenger would approach Ayyadurai to say that Muthu had sent him to the counter.
“The accused did not know or care whether these were actually Muthu’s friends, or just passengers that Muthu had found in the airport. He did however caution Muthu via text message on 12 May 2018, ‘Muthu don’t tell anyone what you are doing’,” said DPP Koh.
Between 12 April and 30 May last year, Ayyadurai under-reported the weight of passenger baggage on Muthu’s behalf about twice a week for a total of 12 to 15 occasions. The duo would then meet at various places around the airport for Muthu to pass Ayyadurai cash. In total, Ayyadurai received between $500 and $600 in kickbacks.
Muthu is currently outside of Singapore.
Crimes may undermine safety: CPIB
In a statement released after the men were charged earlier this month, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau said, “We do not tolerate bribery even when the amount is small because some corrupt acts can possibly lead to the compromise of our public safety.”
“Corrupt practices of such nature will not only tarnish the excellent reputation of Singapore’s Changi Airport but more importantly, it may undermine our safety in air travel,” the anti-graft agency added.
The maximum punishment for corruption is a fine of up to $100,000 along with a jail term of up to five years.
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