28 Gennaio 2002

Aircraft parts swindle linked to New York plane crash

Aircraft parts swindle linked to New York plane crash

ITALIAN police said yesterday that they have arrested six people for trafficking in defective Airbus spare parts suspected of causing the November 12 American Airlines crash in Queens, New York, in which 265 people died. 2
Officers of the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police), working in conjunction with the FBI, sequestered six ageing Airbus A300s parked in a hangar at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome on Saturday.

Officers said the aircraft had been dismantled for spare parts by an Italian company, Panaviation, to sell to American, Canadian and other airlines around the world using false documentation claiming they were airworthy.

The multimillion-dollar scam came to light after an inquiry into a separate crash of a Dornier 329 airliner at Christopher Colombus airport in Genoa on February 25, 1999, in which four people died. In Naples on Friday police seized three container loads of aircraft spare parts that Panaviation was shipping to the United States for sale via US associates, police sources said.

The Guardia di Finanza arrested six people on Thursday, including Panaviation?s chairman, Enzo Fregonese, his daughter, Patrizia, two of his employees and two officials of the Italian airline Meridiana, accused of jeopardising transport security, fraud and extortion. The six Airbuses seized on Saturday had been sold to Panaviation by Alitalia, the Italian national carrier, in 1992, and were due to be demolished as obsolete.

When police, acting on a tip from an informer, burst into Hangar No 8 at Leonardo da Vinci airport, however, they found that the aircraft had been stripped partially for spare parts, some of which were in containers packed ready for export to the USA, while others were strewn on the ground.

The FBI is examining documents from Panaviation seized by Italian police that are linked to the American Airlines disaster, while Italian magistrates are studying others linked to the crash at Genoa, the sources said.

Another key to the affair is the theft of jet electronic equipment worth £2 million from a Meridiana airline hangar at the Sardinian airport of Olbia in 1993, the sources said. Several months after the theft, the equipment was found to have been sold with an authentic airworthiness certificate. Police believe the certificate was used as a model for other fraudulent documentation that Panaviation issued later to cover the sale of obsolete parts.

The Italian aviation authority has opened its own inquiry, and the Italian consumer watchdog Codacons has demanded that every airliner owned by an Italian company and in service be checked to ensure none is using defective spare parts sold in the fraud.

Panaviation worked with other brokerage companies in Italy, New Tech Italia and New Tech Aerospace, and in the USA with the companies Dunbee and Mitchell, through whom deals were done with several Canadian airlines, according to Corriere della Sera.The company had been under secret surveillance for three years with approval from an investigating magistrate after the first false documents issued by the concern were found. Airlines faced with plummeting revenues after September 11 have increasingly been tempted to cut costs by buying spare parts of dubious provenance, Corriere della Sera said.


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