SINGAPORE: To aid his side business transporting gold bought in Singapore to India for sale, a man bribed a logistics company worker at Changi Airport to under-report the weight of baggage with his gold in it.
Gopal Krishna Raju, a 37-year-old Indian national whose main job was as a manager in a food processing company, pleaded guilty on Friday (Sep 20) to one charge of bribing Patel Hiteshkumar Chandubhai.
Gopal admitted to bribing Patel, a customer service associate working for logistics firm UBTS, at least 10 times between January and October 2016.
The court heard that Gopal paid Patel at least S$800 in total to under-report the weight of passenger baggage in the check-in computer system for certain passengers checking in for Tigerair flights.
He approached these passengers to help him carry gold to Chennai, offering them sums of money.
Patel was introduced to Gopal through mutual friends, said Deputy Public Prosecutor David Koh.
Gopal had a side business purchasing gold in Singapore and sending it to Chennai for it to be sold there.
Instead of using a courier service, he looked for passengers travelling to Chennai, including strangers or his own friends, and asked if they were willing to carry gold to Chennai for his relatives.
His relatives would then pay the passengers an unidentified sum of money. Gopal went to the airport between 15 and 20 times a month to look for such passengers.
HE APPROACHED PATEL FOR HELP, IN EXCHANGE FOR MEALS AND MONEY
Sometime in January 2016, Gopal asked Patel to help him under-report the baggage weight of such passengers in order to avoid excess baggage charges.
The company that employed Patel supplied manpower to SATS, the ground-handling service provider at Changi Airport, and his duties included helping passengers at boarding gates and check-in counters for Tigerair flights.
Patel was tasked with determining whether a passenger's hand-carry baggage weighed more than 10kg and had to be checked in.
Check-in baggage also has to be within the baggage allowance purchased by each customer, and if it weighs more, Patel had to ask the passenger to repack their baggage or charge them for the excess.
He had the discretion to waive excess baggage charges for up to 1kg extra, but if the excess baggage weighed more than this, he had to seek approval from the duty manager to waive them.
The rate of excess baggage charges was S$25 per kg of excess baggage for Tigerair, the court heard.
Gopal offered to give Patel sums of money and treat him to meals, and Patel agreed to the arrangement. They kept in contact by phone, with Patel informing Gopal of the specific check-in counter to go to, so he could carry out the under-reporting of baggage weight.
Gopal would treat his fellow Indian national to a meal at a restaurant in Little India after, and give him a sum of between S$80 and S$150.
They carried on in this fashion for 10 months up until October 2016, with Gopal giving Patel at least S$800 of bribes in total.
REPORT LED TO DISCOVERY OF OFFENCES
Gopal's offences were uncovered after a report on a baggage-touting syndicate operating in Changi Airport was published by The New Paper in July last year and prompted investigations.
The prosecution asked for a term of eight weeks' jail to be imposed, saying that the harm in this case goes "far beyond the lost excess baggage fees".
He said Changi Airport has a stellar reputation, regularly rated as the world's best airport, while Singapore has a "hard-won reputation as a country that has no tolerance for corrupt activity".
"Any corrupt activity that takes place within the context of the air travel industry therefore threatens to severely undermine the reputation and national interests of Singapore," said the prosecutor.
Gopal's lawyer said he would be asking for a fine, but the judge said "he's not going to get a fine" and adjourned sentencing to next week.
For bribing Patel, Gopal faces a maximum jail term of five years, a fine of up to S$100,000, or both.