S'pore fights growing menace of inflight thefts

For them, inflight service means helping themselves to someone else's things while that person is asleep during a flight.

The first few cases on inflight theft emerged here in December 2011 and the problem has since proved to be a growing scourge of airlines.

The number of such thefts have been growing so rapidly that it prompted District Judge Christopher Koh to declare in September, as he sentenced eight Chinese nationals for the crime:"These despicable acts must be nipped in the bud before they get out of hand."

On Monday, another culprit was hauled to court. Chinese national Liu Yanjun, was jailed nine months for stealing a bag on a Tiger Airways flight on Oct 19.

Singapore's Airport Police Division noticed the trend early last year and their investigation revealed the culprits were from Henan province in China.

Why Henan? The New Paper contacted law enforcement agencies and academics familiar with such crimes in Macau, Hong Kong, London and the US.

NOT NEW IN HENAN

It appears that Henan natives have been committing such offences in China for at least five years.

In 2008, a Henan native working in Shenyang, Liaoning province, reportedly hatched such a plan with two of his gambling mates.

Over six days, the three shuttled between airports in Beijing, Shengyang, Shenzhen and Nanjing, taking 10 flights and stealing about S$18,400 (RMB 90,000) cash.

Such incidents have been on the rise in China.

A Hubei Television report in May, quoting sources from Harbin Taiping International Airport, said there has been a manifold increase in the number of inflight theft cases in the last two years.

A sociologist at Saint Francis University in the US, Dr Lening Zhang, said the densely populated province has a much lower level of industrialisation and urbanisation than other provinces on the east coast of China.

A majority of the population rely on their limited lands or small farms for a living, but many residents have gone to large cities for a better life, said Dr Zhang.

"Going out to get rich may have become a common belief in the province, no matter what type of means could be used." It's quite common for people from one part of China to venture out and commit the same type of crime, said University of Macau sociologist Jianhua Xu.

ROBBERY

Examples are migrant workers from Guangxi committing robbery from their motorcycles in Guangdong, people from Hunan blackmailing local officials and those in Hong Kong and Macau with doctored pornographic images.

"People learn from each other," Dr Xu said. "During Chinese New Year, they go back to their villages.

"People don't care about the means (by which it was obtained), as long as you have money you can show off to villagers.

"Such a person with money tends to be regarded as a hero. He can donate to the local community, build schools - a kind of psychological compensation for how he got the money.

"People are proud of the way they make money."

But Henan itself has an unsavoury reputation in China, said Mr Peng Wang, a researcher in Chinese organised crime at King's College London.

He said there was a popular saying that goes: "Fang huo, Fang dao, Fang Henan (Guard against fire, theft and Henan people)".

Some Chinese media reports have cast Henan natives in a poor light for at least the last 10 years, said Dr Yu Hong, who is a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute.

CAMPAIGN

The situation even prompted Chinese officials to launch a campaign about four to five years ago, to rebuild the province's reputation and promote them as hardworking people, he said.

While police here believe there is one or more organised crime syndicates targeting Singapore-controlled aircraft, a Hong Kong police spokesman said there is no concrete evidence to prove that the culprits were known to each other or that they operated by the same syndicate.

Thrend noticed early last year

Since the first few cases of inflight theft emerged here in December 2011, inflight thieves have proven to be a scourge of airlines.

Singapore's Airport Police Division noticed the trend early last year and their investigation revealed the culprits were from Henan province in China. TNP's queries to law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong and Macau revealed the same.

While inflight theft is a new phenomenon here, it appears Henan natives have been committing such offences in China for at least five years.

Academics familiar with Chinese organised crime said it is common for people from one part of China to venture out and commit the same type of crime. This is because they learn from each other, and a person with money tends to be regarded as a hero in his village, no matter the means of obtaining the wealth, one of them said.

 

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