Twenty-three employees of handling company Groundforce, who worked at Lisbon Airport until 2016, will be tried for theft of hundreds of objects that passengers carried in their luggage and their subsequent sale on the internet and to third parties.

Portugal’s public prosecutor’s office initially indicted 25 defendants but the Criminal Investigation Court of Lisbon pronounced 24 of the defendants in terms of the prosecution of the MP: 23 ground handling operators for air transport and the companion of one of the defendants.

“From a date not specifically ascertained until 2016, the defendants decided to steal goods that passengers carried in their luggage, when handling them, essentially targeting computer items, laptop computers, iPods, iPads, mobile phones, gold or, clothing, watches, perfumes and other goods of considerable value, that were easily appropriated, hidden and sold,” the public prosecutor’s office said.

The defendants “had access to passengers’ luggage” when loading or unloading aircraft, “privileged knowledge of the premises” with a video surveillance system in the terminals, and entry, “without any restrictions, into areas of restricted or conditioned access for employees of Lisbon Airport”.

The culprits “used three methods” to commit thefts, depending on where they were located: if they were transporting the passengers’ baggage to the aircraft hold, if they were transporting the baggage to the conveyors at the ‘Departures/Arrivals’ baggage terminals, or when they were transporting it during the journey made in the ‘trolleys’ (cars with containers carrying the baggage) between the aircraft and the terminals, and vice-versa.

“In addition, the defendants chose, preferably, long-haul aircraft that made stopovers in Lisbon, in order to prevent victims from knowing where the theft had taken place. Or they targeted aircraft whose flights began at Lisbon Airport to other countries, since passengers would only check their luggage upon arrival at the destination”, the accusation said.

When they loaded luggage onto the aircraft, “the defendants purposely piled up some luggage immediately at the entrance to the hold, forming a barrier, so as to make it impossible to see what was going on inside”, and then “immobilised the conveyor belt that transported the luggage into the hold and remained there, with the bags at their disposal”.

In possession of the stolen goods, “hidden in backpacks or in the clothes they were carrying”, the defendants “removed them from the airport premises or placed them in personal lockers” or in lockers that were not assigned to any official, where they were kept until the defendants found an opportunity to remove them.

The trial had been scheduled to begin on 22 October but was postponed because there was “no room” for it to take place.
“Once the agenda of the general secretary was compulsorily discussed, it was seen that there was no availability in the courtrooms of this court, nor in Monsanto Court, for the trial in these proceedings until 2 March 2020. As of 3 March the large room on floor 0 is available”, the Judicial Court of the District of Lisbon said tom Lusa.

The presiding judge explained that, given the large number of defendants and lawyers, “it is not feasible to hold the trial hearing in the room usually used by this collective court” nor “any other room in this court (or in the Monsanto Court) with the necessary capacity to accommodate all those involved”.

Lusa also asked Judge Amélia Catarino Correia de Almeida whether she considered that the Campus of Justice and the Court of Monsanto are sufficient and meet the needs given the number of trials.

“As for the remaining issues, I inform you that there are more and more cases of special complexity and large size distributed for trial in the Central Criminal Court of Lisbon, some with a high number of participants, and to demand trial in large rooms. Up to the present date, and whenever a need for a special room has been communicated to me, a solution has always been found”, emphasised the President of the Judicial Court of the District of Lisbon, in her written answer.