Man pleads guilty to bribing staff to under-report baggage weight at Changi Airport

Wan Ting Koh
Changi Airport. (FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A man who bribed a customer service associate to under-report the weight of the baggages being checked into Tigerair flights over a 10-month period pleaded guilty to corruption charges on Friday (20 September).

Gopal Krishna Raju would ask passengers to help him carry gold bars back to India to sell. The Indian national sought help from his compatriot Patel Hiteshkumar Chandubhai to under-report the baggage weight in the check-in system to avoid excess baggage charges.

His offences were uncovered as a result of investigations by The New Paper, which published a report of a baggage-touting syndicate operating in Changi Airport in July 2018.

10 occasions of bribery between Jan and Oct 2016

The 37-year-old admitted to bribing Patel on 10 occasions between January and October 2016. Patel worked for UBTS, which supplies manpower to SATS, the primary ground-handling service provider at Changi Airport.

Patel, also 37, was sentenced to eight weeks' jail on 29 April for accepting bribes.

As a customer service associate, his responsibilities included checking that the baggage was within the weight allowance bought by the passenger, and record the weight in the system.

He was allowed to waive the excess baggage fee for up to 1 kilogram of excess baggage on his discretion. If the excess baggage exceeded 1 kilogram, he was required to seek approval from the duty manager to waive charges.

Gopal, a manager in a food processing company, met Patel through a mutual friend. At the time of the offences, he had a side business in which he purchased gold in Singapore and sent it back to Chennai to be sold.

Gopal did not use a courier service but looked for passengers travelling to Chennai. The passengers could either be friends or strangers.

He would ask if they were willing to carry the gold bars and pass them to his relatives in Chennai, who would give these passengers a sum of money in exchange.

Gopal would visit Changi Airport between 15 to 20 times a month to look for willing passengers.

Money and meals in return for under-reporting

In early January 2016, he sought the help of Patel to under-report the baggage weight of check-in passenger baggage for those who were helping him ferry the gold to Chennai. In return, he offered Patel bribes in the form of money and meals. Patel agreed.

Gopal would then contact Patel to check if he was working at the check-in counter on a particular day. If Patel was, Gopal would bring a passenger to the counter to have his baggage weighed and checked in.

Between January and October 2016, if the passenger’s baggage exceeded the purchased weight allowance, Patel would under-report the weight in the check-in system, so that the passenger would not have to pay the excess baggage fees.

The two men would meet up, usually at a restaurant in Little India, where Gopal would treat Patel to a meal. He would also gave Patel a sum of between $80 and $150 during each meal. In total, Gopal gave at least $800 to Patel in gratification.

Act threatens reputation of Singapore: DPP

Gopal’s actions were later uncovered after the publication of the report on The New Paper in July last year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor David Koh sought eight weeks’ jail for Gopal, whom he said had engaged in an act which threatened the reputation and national interests of Singapore by undermining the reputation of Changi Airport and the aviation industry.

He said that Gopal was “the initiator of the corrupt arrangement”.

“The accused’s own motivation was to avoid excess baggage charges, and his entire business model was also predicated on avoiding courier fees,” the DPP said.

He added that the multiple offences were over a “significant period of time” and hence Gopal should not be treated as a first-time offender.

Gopal’s sentencing has been adjourned to Monday. His offence carries a jail term of up to five years or a maximum $100,000 fine.

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