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Gold worth €1.5m ‘stolen’ from Air France flight

Some 44 kilos of gold bars, worth €1.5 million, are believed to have been stolen from a recent Air France flight from Paris to Zurich. The theft comes as suspicions mount that Air France staff were complicit in a recent €200 million cocaine smuggling operation.

Gold worth €1.5m 'stolen' from Air France flight
Nine suitcases, containing 300 kg of gold bars go on an Air France flight from Paris to Zurich. Only seven arrive, leaving €1.5 million unaccounted for. File photo: Andy Mitchell

The gold ingots, valued at approximately €1.5 million, were in the possession of the Brink’s secure transportation company, and destined to travel in the hold of an Air France flight from Paris to Zurich on September 19th, according to TF1 television.

Air France said on Tuesday it had filed a complaint with police.

"We hope the investigations will allow us to quickly determine the sequence of events and identify those responsible," a spokesman said.

Brink's a US-based company, which regularly transports gold to Swiss banks as funds transfers, had put nine suitcases, containing roughly 300 kilos of gold ingots, on the flight from Charles de Gaulle airport last Thursday.

On arrival in the Swiss city, two cases were missing from the Brink’s delivery, containing a total of 44 kilos of gold bars.

However in a statement on Tuesday Brink's denied any reponsibility over the missing gold bars, saying "it was not in charge of the transport and the packages were not under its responsibility when they disappeared."

The company added that its task "was limited to ensure the safety of the consignment during its transit at Charles de Gaulle," a mission that Brink's claimed it carried out "perfectly well".  

The French subsidiary of Brink's employs a total of 6,000 people in France. It has 1,800 security officers who work in French airports to inspect passengers and baggage.

France's national aviation police, the GTA, is leading the investigation into how the missing packages were taken from the aircraft, and by whom.

Cocaine seizure in Paris

The presumed theft comes at a bad time for Air France chiefs.

Air France staff are already in the spotlight, after the recent record seizure of 1.3 tonnes of pure cocaine, found in 30 suitcases on an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris.

The €200 million ($270 million) haul has so far led to the arrest of nine people, including three Venezuelan security agents. Three British nationals are believed to be among six people arrested in Paris, although French authorities are yet to confirm these reports.

Miguel Rodriguez, Interior Minister in the South American country, told AFP it was highly likely the smugglers had accomplices within Air France working with them

"How can the cocaine shipment reach France and it gets taken out without going through the normal controls?" he asked.

For his part, aviation security expert Christophe Naudin said the smuggling had to be an Air France inside job to some extent, given how the suitcases appear to have been loaded onto the plane without going through the normal check-in procedures.

"By definition there must have been help from people inside Air France's operation in Caracas to get the bags labelled," Naudin said.

The airline has ordered an internal investigation into the cocaine seizure, and says it is working closely with the police over the incident.

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AIR FRANCE

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs

Air France management said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs
An Air France plane lands at JFK airport in New York. Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

The carrier wants to get rid of 6,560 positions of the 41,000 at Air France, and 1,020 positions of the 2,420 at Hop!, according to a statement issued after meetings between managers and staff representatives.

“For three months, Air France's activity and turnover have plummeted 95 percent, and at the height of the crisis, the company lost 15 million euros a day,” said the group, which anticipated a “very slow” recovery.

The aviation industry has been hammered by the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus outbreak, with firms worldwide still uncertain when they will be able to get grounded planes back into the air.

Air France said it wanted to begin a “transformation that rests mainly on changing the model of its domestic activity, reorganising its support functions and pursuing the reduction of its external and internal costs”.

The planned job cuts amount to 16 percent of Air France's staff and 40 percent of those at Hop!

With the focus on short-haul flights, management is counting mainly on the non-replacement of retiring workers or voluntary departures and increasing geographic mobility.

However, unions warn that Air France may resort to layoffs for the first time, if not enough staff agree to leave or move to other locations. 

'Crisis is brutal'

Shaken heavily by the coronavirus crisis, like the entire aviation sector, the Air France group launched a reconstruction plan aiming to reduce its loss-making French network by 40 percent through the end of 2021.

“The crisis is brutal and these measures are on an unprecedented scale,” CEO Anne Rigail conceded in a message to employees, a copy of which AFP obtained. They also include, she said, “salary curbs with a freeze on general and individual increases (outside seniority and promotions) for all in 2021 and 2022,” including executives of Air France.

The airline told AFP earlier this week that: “The lasting drop in activity and the economic context due to the COVID-19 crisis require the acceleration of Air France's transformation.”

Air France-KLM posted a loss of 1.8 billion euros in the first quarter alone, and has warned it could be years before operations return to pre-coronavirus levels.

Air France has been offered seven billion euros in emergency loans from the French state or backed by it, while the Dutch government approved a 3.4 billion euro package of bailout loans for KLM last week.

The group joins a long list of airlines that have announced job cuts in recent weeks.

Lufthansa is to slash 22,000 jobs, British Airways 12,000, Delta Air Lines 10,000 and Qantas 6,000.

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