Tuesday 11 December 2018

Aer Lingus worker who helped illegal immigrants enter the country is jailed for four years

Frederick Cham (63)
Frederick Cham (63)

Declan Brennan

An Aer Lingus ground handler has been jailed for four years for helping to smuggle people illegally into the country.

Frederick Cham (63) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to five charges of facilitating the entry into the State of a person who was an illegal immigrant or who was seeking asylum at Dublin Airport on dates between December 13, 2016 and January 22, 2017.

Cham, of Railway Cottages, Hazelhatch, Celbridge, Co. Kildare also admitted two charges of handling money which he knew to be the proceeds of crime on dates in December 2016 and January 2017.

The Hong Kong native, along with another Aer Lingus employee, helped foreign nationals to bypass Dublin Airport's passport control by using staff swipe cards to access an employee gate that wasn't being watched.

Judge Martin Nolan said it was a serious and devious crime. He said that it was at the end of a smuggling operation involving people desperate to obtain entry into Ireland.

He said Cham's ability to get people outside of the airport without going through customs or immigration control was invaluable to the people behind the operation .

Judge Nolan backdated the four year prison term to January 2017, when Cham was arrested. He noted that Cham was otherwise a very hard working man and a man of ability.

After his arrest Cham described the scheme to investigators, telling them: “Tell a little rat there’s a hole there, out you go, it’s not a criminal enterprise”.

He told gardaí that he was getting “a little bit of fast cash to get by”. He claimed it was a "Mickey Mouse operation” and not a “criminal enterprise” but the court heard gardaí do not accept this.

He told investigators that the operation was linked to a man in China. He identified a number of Western Union transfers of cash, totalling around €6,000, from China and said he and his co-accused got around two to three thousand euro for each smuggling operation.

He told gardaí he spent the money on pints of Guinness. Cham has no previous convictions and has worked at Dublin Airport since coming here 15 years ago.

Inspector Michael Buckley told the court that Cham or the other man, who is before the courts and cannot be identified, would get a text from someone in Madrid to indicate that somebody was coming into Dublin Airport.

Once the plane got to the air-bridge, the co-accused would meet the foreign national off the plane and escort him to towards the immigration hall. Before entering this hall the co-accused would bring the foreign national into a nearby lift where Cham was waiting.

The men would exit the lift at ground level wearing “high-vis" Aer Lingus vests and travel in a catering truck to a nearby hangar. It was here, via a staff turnstile gate, that the foreign national would move from air-side to land-side and enter the State.

The operation came to light on January 10 last year when a man with a false Irish passport presented at the boarding gate in Dublin Airport in order to fly to London. Investigations showed that this man had arrived from Madrid the day before and gardaí tracked his movements through the airport using CCTV footage.

Detectives identified Cham and his co-worker from the staff swipe card identities and began monitoring them. They established that a travel agent based in Rome was linked to suspicious activity and that another trip was scheduled for January 22.

Gardai set up a surveillance operation and identified the earlier foreign national arriving back to Ireland and being met by Cham and the co-accused.

Sean Gillane SC, defending, told the court that there was no evidence of exploitation or intimidation of the people being smuggled into the country.

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