Dozens of baggage handlers working for Italian airline Alitalia have been arrested in an operation to clamp down on suitcase thefts.
The 29 were held in dawn raids across the country while another 57 workers were also taken in for questioning as part of the police blitz which was codenamed ‘Operation Clean Holds’.
It followed a year long surveillance operation at eight airports across Italy but specifically targeting the main airport in Rome after ‘tens of thousands of Euros’ of items were stolen from suitcases which had been forced open after being taken from aircraft baggage holds.
Officers said they launched the investigation in cooperation with Alitalia after the airline received numerous complaints from passengers – both national and international – that suitcases had not arrived on baggage carousels or had been forced open and in some cases items stolen.
Police said bottles of alcohol, cash and electronic goods as well as designer clothes were among items taken by the thieves who worked in unison with other baggage handlers across Italy in Milan, Naples, Venice and Lamezia Terme often sharing information on the best techniques to steal suitcases.
In a statement police said that 29 had been bailed pending further investigations while another 57 workers were told they had to report to police stations on a daily basis, again while enquiries continued.
Alitalia said: ‘During 2012 our security department worked in collaboration with police in Rome and Lamezia Terme in the study and development of an investigation which had the objective of identifying those responsible for a growing number of baggage thefts from Alitalia passengers.’
The airline added that the cooperation meant that the operation ‘culminated in this important result, which has led to the arrests of those presumed responsible,’ and concluded by saying that ”Alitalia will continue to give total collaboration with the police and the judiciary.’
Rome airport police chief Antonio Greco said: ‘This was a very significant operation which has led to several arrests as well as people being questioned in connection with these thefts. Those convicted face six years in jail and they will obviously lose their jobs. The thefts totalled hundreds of thousnds of Euros and there were more than 100 across the country.’
He explained that surveillance cameras had been installed inside baggage holds on planes to catch those breaking open suitcases but Mr Greco also added that the recording devices did not affect aircraft safety.
Italian airports have a reputation for baggage thefts and there are regular police operations to clamp down on the crime wave with one of the most famous taking place in 2002 when more than 40 were arrested and footage was revealed with employees picking up suitcases breaking them open and helping themselves to items inside.