Despite a backlash in the press and lots of loud lip-service from authorities, thieves and dishonest cabbies continue to prey on passengers at Vietnam’s main international airport
Passengers checking out at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. The airport security agency has reported a rash of crimes targeting passengers recently. Photo by Diep Duc Minh
Tran Thi Hang saw two men in fancy outfits staring at her when she arrived at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport after a recent flight from Singapore.
She saw them again in the parking lot as she walked to her motorbike. But this time they were on a bike and speeding straight for her. Next thing she knew, they had snatched her bag and were speeding away.
“They must have followed me as I checked out,” said the 28-year-old woman. She lost 1,000 Singapore dollars, 300 US dollars, a cell phone and her cosmetics.
Many similar cases have been reported around the airport, highlighting a spate of robbery, extortion and swindling targeting passengers arriving at Ho Chi Minh City’s only airport, the most bustling transit point in the nation.
In another case, a local man, identified only as K, arrived at the airport on September 12 and walked out along nearby Truong Son Street when five men robbed his watch and US$15,000.
The victim said it was likely that his watch, which he said was worth about $100,000, that attracted the robbers who probably followed him from the airport.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Pham Cong Nghia, chief of police in Tan Binh District’s Ward 2, where the airport terminal is located, said many robbers have begun operating in and around the airport because they believe airplane passengers carry lots of money and valuables.
Nghia said criminal gangs from northern provinces have migrated to HCMC recently and are using new ploys to make off with people’s money and property. Add that to the fact that local criminals have also stepped up operations, and things at the airport look pretty bad.
The Tan Binh District police are currently filing robbery charges against 32-year-old Le Hoang Chanh for stealing luggage at Tan Son Nhat in May.
According to police, Chanh, who is serving a one-year probation sentence for a previous robbery conviction, came to the airport’s international arrival section and took a bag of luggage from the carousel.
Wearing smart clothes to impersonate a passenger, he put the stolen luggage in a trolley and easily pushed it out of the terminal. Police said he used the elevator, instead of passing through the gate like most other passengers, to avoid the check-out process.
He was arrested while stealing another bag with the same ploy. Chanh even claimed that he had taken someone’s bag by mistake before confessing to the crime, police said.
Earlier, airport security detected Nguyen Thi My, 41, via security camera tapes, which showed her stealing the purse of a Taiwanese passenger.
My admitted that she came to the airport to steal. After seeing the Taiwanese passenger put her wallet on a pile of luggage, My cleverly stole it while hiding the act with a coat over her arm.
Besides outright robberies, police and airport security have also caught con men and swindlers operating at the airport.
Captain Mai Trong Hanh of the District 10 Police Department said officers recently arrested groups of thieves who have confessed to luring airport passengers to hotels for “massages” before stealing their property.
Among the gangs was one led by Nguyen Van Tung and Nguyen Thi Ha, who were arrested and investigated on swindling charges.
Investigators said the duo came to the airport and found Japanese passenger Mayata Yuki waiting for a delayed flight.
They offered a massage package at a hotel in District 10 and after the service, Yuki found that her iPad and money, valuing more than $1,000 in different currencies, were gone.
According to the police, many criminals tend to target foreigners, assuming that they have valuable property and are not watchful enough.
“Criminals even buy a ticket like other passengers but only to be allowed to enter limited areas, like the waiting rooms, to steal properties,” Nghia, the police chief of Tan Binh District’s Ward 2, said.
Unsolved taxi problems
According to the airport’s Aviation Security Center, last week, a South Korean passenger taking a taxi from the airport to a hotel in the city was extorted by a cabbie who charged more than ten times the real fee.
The driver, who was later identified as a Saigon Tourist taxi driver, charged the Korean passenger VND1.5 million while the meter displayed only VND140,000.
After reporting the case, the security agency coordinated with police and identified the driver, who later confessed to the scam and returned the money.
Do Xuan Toan, the agency’s director, said such taxi problems have been persistent for years and are difficult to deal with for several reasons.
“Many passengers only stay for a few days while investigations often take longer,” he said.
“After arresting the criminals, police only issue an administrative fine instead of criminal charges because the victim is not present as required in criminal procedures in order to press charges against the culprits,” he told Vietweek.
He said many criminals, including taxi drivers, have abused this loophole to commit crimes.
He also used the excuse that when scams or robberies happen to tourists in taxis that have left the airport, jurisdiction becomes an issue because even victims who report the crimes do not know the city well enough to pinpoint the location of the crime.
Meanwhile, many taxi firms do not require a deposit from drivers to ensure their honesty at work, he said.
“The strictest measure a driver can face is dismissal. So they are not deterred against violations like appropriating property or stealing money from passengers,” he said.
He admitted that the fact that criminals were now operating inside the terminal was a serious problem.
He said many airlines sell electronic ticket, making it difficulty for security to check their tickets.
“The ticket can be a number code in their phone,” he said. “Previously, we checked paper tickets before passengers entered the luggage check section. It used to be safer for the passenger’s luggage because the criminals, who do not have tickets, could not enter this area.”
He said his agency has coordinated with local police but the airport is located on the border of different wards, which makes the security situation more “complicated”.
“The aviation security agency has tried their best. But it requires actions from other relevant agencies like the police and city authorities to maintain the safety of passengers and to handle violations thoroughly as a deterrent.”
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By Vietweek Staff, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the September 27th issue of our print edition Vietweek)