Smuggling immigrants through Dublin Airport was ‘Mickey Mouse’ operation, court told
Aer Lingus ground handler helped to smuggle illegal immigrants into Ireland in exchange for cash
Frederick Cham, along with another Aer Lingus employee, helped to bypass passport control in the immigration hall of Dublin Airport by using staff swipe cards. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
An Aer Lingus ground handler who helped to smuggle illegal immigrants into the country in exchange for cash told gardaí that it was a “Mickey Mouse” operation.
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 13th, 2016 and January 22nd, 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.
Originally from Hong Kong, Cham was arrested as part of an investigation by the Garda National Immigration Bureau after the trafficking scheme came to light.
Cham, along with another Aer Lingus employee, helped to bypass passport control in the immigration hall of Dublin Airport by using staff swipe cards.
He told gardaí that he was getting “a little bit of fast cash to get by” and said it was a “Mickey Mouse operation”.
Describing how the scheme worked, he said: “Tell a little rat there’s a hole there, out you go, it’s not a criminal enterprise”. Garda Inspector Michael Buckley told the court that gardaí did not accept this.
Cham told gardaí that the operation was linked to a man in China. He identified to investigators separate Western Union transfers of cash, totalling around €6,000, from China and said he and his co-accused got around €2,000 to €3,000 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 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 airplane 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 10th 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 22nd.
Gardaí 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, said there was no evidence of exploitation or intimidation of the people being smuggled into the country.
Judge Martin Nolan said he would think about his sentence overnight. He remanded Cham in continuing custody until 1pm on Wednesday.