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Police Raid Airport Luggage Handlers in Theft Ring at Milan, Italy - 2002-08-27

Baggage handlers at a Milan airport are under investigation for stealing from the suitcases and bags of travelers. Eight employees have been suspended from their jobs after being found with high-priced goods taken from passengers' luggage.

About 20 million people travel through Milan's Malpensa airport every year, with more than 50,000 bags being handled by the airport every day. In the summer and during other peak travel periods, that figure increases by another 25,000.

Police say the large number of bags moving through Milan's busiest airport had become a lucrative business for about 40 baggage handlers who stole goods from the bags and then re-sold them.

During their five to six hour shifts, mainly at night, the baggage handlers opened suitcases and removed valuables including jewelry, cameras, glasses, watches, and expensive items of clothing.

Police said the baggage handlers involved in the thefts were fearless and were certain they would not be discovered. Honest employees reportedly were threatened and told to keep quiet or their cars would be set on fire.

An investigation into the thefts was opened a year ago after authorities at Malpensa airport began receiving an unusually high number of complaints about stolen goods. Closed-circuit video filmed the baggage handlers going through suitcases and then stashing away stolen items into their lockers.

One video, broadcast by Italian state television, showed an airport worker putting a stolen snowboard into a locker. The video then showed him taking the snowboard and throwing it over the airport fence to a waiting accomplice in a car.

Police carried out raids at the homes of the baggage handlers last weekend and recovered $25,000 worth of stolen goods. Passengers who can prove they had an item stolen while transiting through Malpensa airport will be able to claim it if it is among the goods recovered.