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Cablegate: "Brinks Job" Theft at Argentina Airport: Another Black Eye

VZCZCXYZ0030
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #2032/01 2841644
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111644Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9463
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHINGTON DC
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6628
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6837
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0839
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6505
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 2186
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1657
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ OCT CARACAS 1545
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 1923
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL 0032

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 002032

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

AMCONSUL MONTREAL FOR US MISSION TO ICAO LAURA FAUX-GABLE
FAA NATIONAL HQ FOR CECILIA CAPESTANY
TSA HQ FOR KIP HAWLEY AND JILLENE MACCRERRY

SIPDIS
PASS NSC FOR MICHAEL SMART
TRANSPORTATION FOR BRIAN HEDBERG
COMMERCE FOR EUGENE ALFORD
TREASURY FOR MATT MALLOY
PASS FED BOARD OF GOVERNORS FOR PATRICE ROBITAILLE
US SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR PGOV ECON EFIN KCOR ICAO AR
SUBJECT: "Brinks Job" Theft at Argentina Airport: Another Black Eye
for Argentina

Ref: (A) Buenos Aires 1947, (B) Buenos Aires 1629

1. (SBU) Summary: The October 4 United Airlines flight from
Washington to Buenos Aires was the scene of a highly publicized
theft of $80,000 in cash, stolen within a U.S.-based Brinks
container, part of a larger U.S. Federal Reserve Bank transfer to
the Central Bank of Argentina. Government of Argentina (GOA)
airport police immediately executed a court-sanctioned search of the
Argentine ground handling company, Intercargo, suspected of
involvement. The search of hundreds of employee lockers turned up a
large cache of jewelry, watches, cash, and electronic goods, all
presumably stolen from other flights - but not the missing $80,000.
In protest of this "arbitrary and unlawful" search, Intercargo
employees staged a six-hour strike that same afternoon, affecting
some 5,000 passengers and dozens of domestic and international
flights. Two Intercargo employees were detained, and granted bail
on October 9. There is no/no U.S. Government jurisdiction in this
case. As of October 11, the money has still not been recovered.
This incident adds to a long list of alleged incidents at Buenos
Aires's two airports, and highlights the poor GOA airport
intra-agency coordination. While top airport security officials
have publicly spoken out about the severe problems, unfortunately,
this embarrassing episode will probably be soon forgotten. We are
skeptical about any likely consequences in terms of punishment or
improved security procedures. Ambassador will be meeting October 22
with the airport security police chief to seek his views on this and
other airport security issues. Embassy is also considering
approaching the MFA and other relevant ministries to flag concerns
about the pattern of thefts from travelers. End summary.

-------------------
Brazen cash robbery
-------------------

2. (SBU) According to the Federal Reserve and GOA contacts, this
U.S. Fed-Argentine Central Bank was a routine transfer. Media
reports estimate that it totaled about $350 million. Soon after
this Washington-to-Buenos Aires flight landed, GOA customs officials
detected an enormous gash in the container holding the cash. GOA
customs also provided Post photographs of the damage. The cash
reportedly was bundled in a series of smaller boxes, and customs and
media reported that one of these, containing $80,000, was stolen.
GOA officials also confirmed to Post that the money had been stolen
in Buenos Aires, and not in Washington, basing this conclusion on
reports from the Federal Reserve and Brinks, sent to GOA customs,
confirming that the cargo was intact when it left Washington. The
United Airlines country manager independently confirmed this
sequence of events, and also privately expressed "surprise" at the
"low level" of security and protection to safeguard delivery of so
much currency. He hazarded a guess that the reason "only" $80,000
was stolen was that the robber might have had very little time to
steal, and had to make a quick getaway. By late morning of October
4, this theft was already widely reported.

--------------------------------------------- --------
State-Owned Ground Handling Company Intercargo Fingered
--------------------------------------------- --------

3. (SBU) According to the Airport Security Police (PSA), Embassy
contacts, and media reports, employees from Intercargo were
immediately suspected of the crime. GOA Customs also determined
that Intercargo agents had been the first people to enter the plane.
Intercargo is the GOA-owned ground handling company jointly
controlled by the Ministries of Defense and Economy, with a
notorious reputation for its employees stealing valuable items from

passengers' checked-in baggage. Post contacts have long complained
about Intercargo, in terms of its theft, as well as their high price
and poor service. Most airlines, domestic and international, are
forced to use this monopoly.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Search of employees' lockers unveils a "duty free shop" of stolen
goods - but no $80,000
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (SBU) The PSA soon performed a court-sanctioned search of about
450 Intercargo employee lockers and desks at the airport. Although
the missing $80,000 was not recovered (and still has not been as of
October 11), a large quantity of high-value items - the media called
it a "duty free shop" of high-value goods - jewelry, watches, cash,
cameras, electronic goods, perfume, alcohol and wallets, likely
stolen from passengers' baggage - was reportedly found. As a
result, twelve Intercargo employees were temporarily detained and
will reportedly face charges of theft.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Intercargo employees react with strike, paralyzing flights
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. (SBU) Responding to the PSA raid, outraged Intercargo employees
and its union staged an immediate strike, beginning at about 2 pm on
Thursday, October 4, affecting some 5,000 passengers and dozens of
domestic and international flights, in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires-based
Aeroparque airport, and in the second largest city of Cordoba, until
a Ministry of Labor-mandated mediation order restored employees to
their work at about 8 pm. The strike caused follow-on delays to
continue until the following day. As strange as it might sound,
Intercargo employees and its union expressed outrage about this
court-approved search of employee lockers, and complained of PSA's
"arbitrary treatment and human rights abuses," and that PSA
contained agents whose ranks included "agents from the former
military dictatorship."

--------------------------------------------- --------
Two Intercargo employees detained, later granted bail; Intercargo
a "criminal organization"
--------------------------------------------- --------

6. (SBU) Two Intercargo employees, accused of the theft, remained
detained until October 9, being granted bail for about $7,500 each.
One of those detained is reportedly known as "the Surgeon," noted in
media reports for his skill in carving out valuable items from
checked baggage. According to these same Post contacts (and reftel
B), many Intercargo employees have criminal records and constitute a
"mafia" that most GOA law enforcement and aviation officials are
reluctant or ill-equipped to confront.

7. (U) In the wake of this robbery, top officials of the PSA
described Ezeiza airport as being controlled by a "criminal
organization," dedicated to "stealing valuables, and composed of
well-organized groups." PSA chief Marcelo Sain, in rare interviews,
was uncharacteristically explicit and forceful: "this is a case of
theft, pure and simple," in response to which "Intercargo is
drumming up a campaign of PSA persecution against its employees."
He said that theft and the subsequent discovery of valuables in
Intercargo employees' lockers all indicated that "these were not the
actions of a few individuals, but of a highly organized group."
This is the first time since the force's creation in 2005 that PSA
officials have spoken out so clearly on these problems.

--------------------
No U.S. jurisdiction
--------------------

8. (SBU) According to U.S. and GOA law enforcement officials, there
is no/no U.S. jurisdiction in this matter, as Brinks took possession
and legal responsibility for this money from the U.S. Federal
Reserve in the United States on October 3. Brinks has the
responsibility for the money's delivery - and its insurance - for
any such losses.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Case joins long list of alleged infractions at "mafia" airport,
including PSA and others
--------------------------------------------- --------

9. (SBU) This case joins a long list of similar cases of theft and
malfeasance at Argentina's major airports. These incidents have
taken a heavy toll on Argentina's image in terms of tourism, trade
and investment. As discussed in ref A, Argentina was rudely
reminded last week of its poor international standing in terms of
corruption and business-friendly environment. Airport employee
thefts are regularly reported in the media. In 2007 alone, a
partial list of infractions includes 20 employees from PSA, 31 from
Intercargo, 17 from private security firms, 13 from Customs and one
from Immigration. In August, a popular television investigative
report, with the help of a hidden camera, showed employees from
Intercargo and a private security company, while ostensibly
inspecting baggage passing through scanners, identifying and
stealing high-value contents. On October 9, the most recent
episode, and five days after this theft of $80,000, three more
private security employees at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque airport
were caught stealing from the contents of bags.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Highlights poor GOA coordination at international airport
--------------------------------------------- --------

10. (SBU) Airport users have long complained about the entire
structure of Ezeiza International Airport (reftel B), charging
disorganization, poor and pricy services, overcrowding, strike-prone
unions, and theft. Argentina's aviation structure is plagued with a
hodgepodge of competing GOA agencies exercising authority. The
Ministries of Defense, Interior, Planning and Economy all exercise
some aspect of control: civil aviation oversight, airport police,
Intercargo customs and immigration. In addition, the nominally
independent National Airports Regulator oversees the airports
concessionaire Aeropuertos Argentina 2000. All these airport
entities have long been the subject of complaints for infighting and
lack of cooperation.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Comment: A common occurrence with likely no consequence; Ambassador
to seek
--------------------------------------------- --------

11. (SBU) Unfortunately, this event is such a normal occurrence here
that, a few days after the event and initial media coverage,
interest has already waned. The two Intercargo employee suspects
have been granted bail, and absent hard evidence (finding the
missing $80,000), what will likely play out is a lengthy and
fruitless legal process. The suspects may well escape punishment.
It remains to be seen if there will be increased GOA airport
security measures. This latest crime case will likely amount to
just one more of a thousand cuts to Argentina's already damaged

reputation in terms of rule of law, security, and tourism.
Ambassador's October 22 meeting with PSA chief Sain will focus on
this case and other airport security concerns, especially as they
relate to the protection of visiting American citizens. Unless
Washington sees reason not to do so, Ambassador will seek other
opportunities with senior officials in the Foreign Affairs,
Interior, Economy and Defense Ministries to raise concerns about
this pattern of thefts which affect U.S. travelers, among others.
End comment.

WAYNE

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