x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Emirates Airlines employee admits stealing 2.6m air miles

The employee pleads guilty to fraudulently collecting the miles and selling them off to travellers in the form of low-cost tickets to Kenya.

DUBAI // An Emirates Airlines employee pleaded guilty to fraudulently collecting 2.6 million air miles and selling them off to travellers in the form of low-cost tickets to Kenya. EO, 35, a Skywards customer service agent from Kenya, was charged yesterday in Dubai Criminal Court with abuse of his position, electronic forgery and the use of electronically forged material to embezzle funds. 

His compatriot and accomplice D I, 33, an Emirates Airlines travel agent, was charged by the prosecutor with aiding and abetting the embezzlement of public funds. Skywards, launched in 2000, is a frequent flyer rewards programme operated by Emirates Airlines and used by more than 5.72 million customers. According to public prosecution records, E O acquired millions of Skywards air miles by registering real passengers in the programme without their knowledge. E O had been registering frequent flyers since October 2009, collecting miles equivalent to 57 return flights from Dubai to London.

Prosecutors say E O opened accounts with accurate passenger details, but added his own e-mail address to collect the miles. During an internal inquest by Emirates, E O admitted to registering more than 2,000 passengers without their knowledge. D I was an Emirates hot line travel agent who made bookings over the phone. Prosecutors told the court that D I poached customers for E O by recommending Kenya-bound passengers to contact him on his private line for cheaper flight deals.

Ali Rida Darweesh, from Iran, a security officer for the Emirates Group, told prosecutors that E O confessed to him when faced with the charges. Mr Darweesh said E O admitted he acquired more than Dh60,000 from the sales of redeemed Skywards tickets. "On December 2009, we received a call from a Skywards agent claiming a passenger had requested to open a Skywards account but discovered one had been already registered without her consent," Mr Darweesh told prosecutors.

The British passenger was contacted by the security team and questioned about the details in her account, which were all accurate with the exception of the e-mail address, the security officer said. After reviewing their database, officials found a large number of Skywards accounts had the same e-mail address. Emirates investigators then found that a large number of Dubai-Nairobi return tickets were being redeemed against Skywards miles registered to different passengers.

E O and D I were charged yesterday as public officials because of their positions as employees for Dubai's national flag carrier. The charges will carry heavier sentencing as a result. Both men pleaded guilty and the court will issue its verdict on October 5. @Email:amustafa@thenational.ae