Air-mile fraudster flew first class around world

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The Independent Online

A former airport check-in agent siphoned off five million air miles from passengers and used them to fly around the world in luxury.

Satbal Singh, 24, an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, flew first-class to such far-flung places as New Zealand, on tickets that should have cost him £5,000. He also took complimentary "frequent-flyer" gifts including a digital camera, a portable DVD player and a mini-fridge.

A court heard yesterday that while working for Air Canada at Heathrow, Singh set up 13 bogus accounts in his own name. When passengers for Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic and several other airlines checked in, he simply added their free air miles to his accounts.

He also arranged flights for friends and family by redeeming the air miles. The National Crime Squad (NCS), which uncovered the fraud while working on an illegal immigration case, believe that Singh sold some of his free air miles. Among the trips he arranged through the scheme were business-class flights for a family of four from Singapore to New Zealand and flights for a couple from Frankfurt to Bombay.

Singh and his brother flew first-class from Heathrow to Singapore, then on to Auckland, tickets which would normally have cost about £5,000 each, the NCS said.

Singh, who had a modest lifestyle in Hounslow, west London, pleaded guilty yesterday at Isleworth Crown court to false accounting, obtaining services by deception and obtaining property by deception. He will be sentenced next month at the same court in west London. The Afghani national had applied for asylum and was granted leave to remain in the UK.

He has worked for Air Canada for several years. A spokeswoman for NCS said that it was the second air-mile fraud case involving check-in agents working for the airline.

NCS officers investigated whether Singh had compromised the safety of the airlines but found that all the people who had taken the free flights were genuine travellers, rather than smugglers or terrorists.

Acting Detective Inspector Alan Fitzgerald, of the NCS immigration crime team, said: "One of our tasks is to uncover corrupt activities at Heathrow. Following our investigation, we are satisfied that the individuals whose travel was facilitated by Mr Singh were bona fide travellers."