600 smuggled in as fake Aer Lingus staff in €12m scam
Illegal immigrants were disguised as Aer Lingus workers so they could be smuggled through Dublin Airport in a global people smuggling scam that netted gangsters up to €12m.
Two male Aer Lingus employees, aged 61 and 56, and a Chinese national (28) were being quizzed by gardai last night following a major sting operation on Sunday, when an Aer Lingus flight landed in Dublin from Madrid.
More arrests are expected in the investigation, which is said to involve a number of dangerous international gangs.
A massive garda investigation has found that up to 600 people may have been smuggled into the country at an estimated cost of around €20,000 per person as part of the scam.
The Herald has learned the extent of the smuggling operation recently came to light after a man who entered Ireland illegally attempted to leave on a flight to another EU country.
Authorities noticed there was no official record of the individual entering the country, and a criminal probe was launched into the smuggling of people taking place at Ireland's main airport.
"This raised a red flag and the Garda National Immigration Bureau launched a major surveillance operation at the airport," a senior source said.
Gardai have discovered the illegal immigrants arrived on Aer Lingus flights from European destinations and then left the plane with other passengers.
While walking with other passengers in the airport, they would be diverted away by criminals involved in the scam before they reached immigration and customs checks at the airport.
The operation would see them taken to a secure area of the airport and they would be given uniforms and high-visibility jackets to disguise them as Aer Lingus employees.
The non-nationals were then driven from airside to landside in Aer Lingus vehicles such as catering vans and trucks.
Gardai have established that the immigrants were then dropped at a location north of the airport, where they were picked up by associates.
Sources say gardai believe that about 100 illegal immigrants a year came into the country this way and that the scam had been in operation for around six years.
It is understood that most of the people smuggled into the country came from Asian countries, particularly China, and many left here for other EU countries shortly after arriving.
Gardai believe a network of international crime gangs are involved in the scam and these include Italian gangs, Eastern European mobs and even Chinese crime groupings.
"While there are two gentlemen arrested after Sunday night's sting operation, gardai are in no doubt that there were many other people involved in this criminal operation both in Ireland and abroad," a senior source said.
"Expect more arrests to follow," the source added.
Sunday's arrests stemmed from an intelligence-led operation, which a senior garda said is possible as a result of civilian staff being placed at passport control.
Assistant Garda Commissioner John O'Driscoll said yesterday: "In recent times there has been a reconfiguration of personnel working the immigration control at Dublin Airport, which has involved an input of civilian staff attached to Irish Naturalisation and Immigration control booths.
"We have arrested three people, two of whom are employees of a carrier of passengers. One person is a potential illegal immigrant, who illegally entered the state, who was facilitated by our two suspects."