A GROUP of Italian airport baggage handlers accused of stealing passengers' valuables were arrested on Friday after police installed hidden cameras in the cargo holds of aircraft to catch them red-handed.
The 29 baggage handlers were secretly recorded filching cash, jewellery, cameras and other valuables from suitcases as they unloaded them from planes at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport and several other airports around the country.
Another 57 people were placed under investigation.
Investigators said they initially could not work out how the valuables were being stolen, because security in baggage handling areas in airports is tight.
They then realised that the items were probably being stolen while the luggage was still in the holds of aircraft, where baggage handlers could operate with impunity.
Police installed temperature and pressure resistant cameras in the holds and identified the thieves.
It was the first time they had used such covert devices to uncover this type of crime.
Police made more than 2,000 hours of covert recordings.
The footage, which was released to the media, showed baggage handlers unzipping suitcases and bags and systematically rifling through passengers' belongings inside in search of valuables.
They ransacked wash bags and even small cases holding nail clippers, pocketing any cash they came across.
One handler is shown slashing at a rucksack with a knife while another uses a nail file to unpick a lock on a suitcase.
The investigation, which involved 400 police officers, began in 2011 at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport and in Lamezia Terme, in the "toe" of the Italian boot, then spread to half a dozen airports across the country, including Milan's Linate, Palermo, Verona, Bari, Bologna and Naples.
If convicted on charges of theft and damage to property, the suspects face up to six years in prison.