A man took 200 flights in one year – police think it was part of a plot to steal jewellery

An Indian man who took at least 200 flights last year to steal jewellery and other valuables from passengers’ carry-on luggage has been arrested, police in Delhi have said.

The accused, identified as 40-year-old Rajesh Kapoor, travelled for more than 110 days during the last year to commit these thefts, according to the police.

Delhi’s deputy commissioner of police Usha Rangnani said during a press conference at the capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on Monday that the accused is now in police custody.

Ms Rangnani said the man was arrested from the city’s Paharganj area where he had allegedly kept the stolen jewellery.

Police mentioned that he was planning on selling his loot to one Sharad Jain, 46. Ms Rangnani said that he too was arrested from Karol Bagh in central Delhi.

She mentioned that within the last three months, two separate cases of theft were reported on different flights in India. A specialised team was assembled at IGI Airport to apprehend the perpetrators, she said.

On 11 April, a passenger reported the loss of jewellery valued at Rs700,000 (£6,685) during their journey from Hyderabad to Delhi. A similar incident occurred on 2 February, where a passenger lost jewellery items worth Rs2,000,000 (£19,000) while travelling from Amritsar to Delhi.

Ms Rangnani said during investigations, CCTV footage from Delhi and Amritsar airports, along with flight manifests, was scrutinised. A suspect was then identified who appeared on both flights where the thefts occurred.

Despite initially providing a fake number, the suspect’s original phone was traced through technical surveillance, leading to his arrest.

Police said Mr Kapoor confessed to involvement in five cases, admitting to spending most of the stolen cash on gambling. He was implicated in 11 cases, including theft, gambling, and breach of trust, with five cases occurring at airports.

Police said he targeted vulnerable passengers, especially elderly women. He also reportedly chose premium domestic flights, such as Air India and Vistara, flying to destinations such as Delhi, Chandigarh, and Hyderabad.

Mr Kapoor would discreetly search overhead cabins during boarding, stealing valuables from unsuspecting passengers’ handbags.

A report in Hindustan Times said that he sometimes changed seats to be closer to his target, taking advantage of boarding distractions to operate unnoticed.

To conceal his identity, Kapoor booked tickets under his deceased brother’s name, further complicating detection efforts by airlines and authorities.

In 2019, a Times of India report mentioned a 37-year-old also named Rajesh Kapoor, who was arrested from Delhi’s IGI airport for allegedly cheating by impersonation.

The report added that Mr Kapoor had previously been also allegedly involved in several theft cases at railway stations and IGI airport. It reported that he had been blacklisted by several flights that barred him from flying.

However, there is no clear information to establish that the man arrested on Monday is the same person booked by the police in 2019.