Paradoxical case of ‘luggage mafia’: captor jailed, thieves on the loose 

Paradoxical case of ‘luggage mafia’: captor jailed, thieves on the loose
The sentence passed on the policeman raises some flags Photo: The CrimeRussia

Colleagues of Vladimir Minyaev in the Linear Division of Internal Affairs at Vnukovo International Airport believe that the criminal case against him is related to his professional activities. The clampdown on thefts deprived many high-ranked airport employees and law enforcement officers of considerable revenues. The ex-policeman claims that he has been framed-up by the perpetrators seeking to escape liability.

Vladimir Minyaev, the Senior Criminal Investigator of the Department for Combating Criminal Trespasses Against Cargo of the Linear Division at Vnukovo International Airport of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation, who had busted a gang of luggage thieves operating in the airport, has been sentenced to three years behind bars (the prosecution had asked four years for him). The officer was found guilty of Exceeding Official Powers (item (a), part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Solntsevo District Court has announced its decision on October 27. The conviction has caused certain public stir. The CrimeRussia has tracked the chain of events preceding the weird court verdict.

On April 4, 2016, police captain Vladimir Minyaev, an operative of the MIA Linear Division at Vnukovo International Airport, told on the air of LifeNews TV Channel about a luggage theft scheme busted in Vnukovo Airport.

“The multilevel luggage checking system begins at the entrance to the airport terminal. The officers often become aware of valuables in the luggage as early as at the check-in desk. They convey this information to luggage handlers and their accomplices. Then the luggage goes through an introscope – a scanner showing virtually the entire contents of the bags. Aviation security officers normally sit at the monitors; they convey the information to shift bosses or directly to luggage handlers. Upon receipt of information where the money or other valuable are located, the accomplices among the handlers open the required bags. Manual baggage inspection is another way to obtain information about valuables in passengers’ bags. The valuables may disappear either during the manual inspection or at the luggage consolidation stage,” the operative said.

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The theft scheme might be used not only in Vnukovo Airport

The Department for Combating Criminal Trespasses Against Cargo of the MIA Linear Division at Vnukovo Airport had been investigating the gang and its operations for a year. Some two hundred people are connected to that case; some fifty of them have been criminally charged last year. The criminal conspiracy had involved luggage handlers and officers of security check zones, check-in counters, and aviation security. The smoothly-running scheme had involved the theft of valuables and their removal from the airport. The luggage handlers have been caught red-handed after emptying a backpack specially prepared by the police: they took marked money, expensive watches, and electronics. The results of the special operation carried out in the airport were astonishing. Security cameras have recorded the theft of valuables from passengers’ luggage: the footage shows several handlers purposively shielding the suitcases from the camera.

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The footage shows luggage handlers opening the bags and removing valuables

“I was surprised by this – it is amazing to instantly bust an organized criminal group in the airport! It was totally unexpected: 50 luggage service employees have been arrested at once! Why the complaints haven’t been examined earlier?” – Viktor Gorbachev, Honorable Transport Worker and General Director of Airport Civil Aviation Association of Russia and CIS Countries, says.

Why haven’t been examined? In fact, the complaints were examined – but as a mere formality.

It is a paradox that the MIA Administration for Transport for the Central Federal District has reacted completely differently to the exposure of the criminals by the policeman and suspended him after the unveiling of luggage theft facts on TV due to the ‘unacceptability’ of his actions. Shortly after that, a criminal case has been instituted against the criminal investigator under Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Exceeding Official Powers) based on testimonies of luggage handlers Vladimir Sklyanny and Aleksei Burakov accusing him of using violence during their arrest. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has upheld the handlers’ claims. Both of them have been released under a written pledge not to leave the city.

The story raises some flags, does not it? In addition to depriving many airport employees of their ‘earnings’, Minyaev dared to announce this publicly and exposed the theft scheme that might be used in other airports as well. By the way, in accordance with the Resolution of Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation № 19 of September 27, 2012, if a person who has committed a crime suffers damage during the arrest less than the one stipulated in part 2 of Article 114 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Intentional Infliction of a Grave Injury or Injury of Average Gravity), the actions of the person who has performed the arrest do not constitute elements of offence.

Colleagues of Minyaev in the MIA Linear Division at Vnukovo Airport believe that the criminal case against him is related to his professional activities. The clampdown on thefts has deprived many high-ranked airport employees and law enforcement officers of considerable revenues. The ex-policeman claims that he has been framed-up by the perpetrators seeking to escape liability.

Vladimir Minyaev has been criminally charged, while real evidence and forensic inquiries were garbled and disappeared. He has been reprimanded disciplinarily and received a warning of incompetent performance – despite the right to freedom of expression stipulated in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a vicious circle: a complaint submitted to the MIA descends from instance to instance: MIA General Administration or MIA General Administration for Transport – MIA Administration or MIA Administration for Transport – the department where the officer serves. The Prosecutor General’s Office directs the complaint to the relevant Prosecutor’s Office having friendly ties with the command of the above-mentioned department. The Prosecutor’s Office redirects the complaint to the MIA where it descends to the department where the ‘rightless’ officer serves. A complaint submitted to the Labor Inspection or High Commissioner for Human Rights shares the same fate. And the question is: What is this? Conspiracy of silence? Slavery? Indifference towards police officers? Or legal loopholes? – Yuri Trofimov, Editor-in-Chief of Profsoyuz Politzii (Police Trade Union) magazine, asks.

The Trade Union of Officers of Moscow MIA Institutions has informed The CrimeRussia that an appeal is to be filed against the sentence passed on Vladimir Minyaev by Solntsevo District Court of Moscow. In the meantime, the convicted policeman remains in one of the Moscow pretrial detention facilities.

“They work only with departures – in fact, this is the first and primary rule. It is better if a bag flies in transit – in that case, no one can find any traces. The presence of an airline representative during the loading does not guarantee the safety of the luggage: in most cases, this representative is either local (i.e. somebody’s acquaintance) or stands not too close and can’t see what’s going on. And the luggage handlers are handy guys,” – one of the airport handlers told on condition of anonymity.

It is logical to assume that after the conviction of Vladimir Minyaev, captor of the ‘luggage mafia’, operatives serving in Russian airports won’t exercise initiative to catch the thieves.

In the meantime, in anticipation of the re-establishment of justice for the ex-policeman and conviction of the perpetrators, it is recommended that the passengers follow a simple advice from the specialist:

— The most effective measure is to wrap the luggage in polyethylene film. This service is provided in all airports, both in Russia and abroad. Its cost is some 200 rubles ($3.4) – not too much for your tranquility. Small luggage locks fixing the zipper are unreliable: a suitcase or bag may be opened in a few seconds by piercing the zipper with a pen. Then the open zipper is fixed with locks – and no intrusion traces remain. Although even these small locks are better than nothing – the thief would likely search luggage having no protection at all. It is better to take simple measures and enjoy the travel instead of being sorry afterwards about the impaired mood and items lost out of somebody’s malice.

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Tatiana Moskalkova, High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, is going to review the weird case

On November 2, it became known that Tatiana Moskalkova, High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, is going to review the sentence passed on the police officer. She has announced this at Soobshestvo (Community) forum of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. Moskalkova said that after the monitoring of media publications, she decided to request in Solntsevo District Court of Moscow the sentence imposed on Minyaev for review. While commenting the opinions supporting and opposing the conviction of the policeman, the High Commissioner has emphasized that even the solution of most grievous crimes, including murder, must neither involve humiliation and violence against the suspects and defendants nor illegal evidence collection methods.

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