Is it necessary to book an airport?

Airfield security gaps : The rich are not controlled

The boss was happy to deliver the black money personally. Several times a year he drove his private jet to the small airfield of Cascais, a suburb on the coast near Lisbon. His employee then took over the valuable freight right at the airfield in order to later deposit it into the organization's accounts at various banks.

In this way, the Brazilian Edir Macedo, founder and "bishop" of the sect "Universal Church of the Kingdom of God", is said to have brought up to five million dollars a year from Angola to Europe over the years to finance his European ventures. This was reported by his former governor in Europe in March 2018.

Investigate Europe

Investigate Europe is a team of ten journalists from nine European countries. Together they research topics that are important for all of Europe - and share the results. The project is supported by the Hans Böckler Foundation, the Norwegian Fritt Ord Foundation, the Hübner & Kennedy Foundation, the GLS Treuhand, the Schöpflin Foundation, the Rudolf Augstein Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for Europe. The team cooperates with the NGOs Journalismfund and N-Ost. The research on private aviation is published across Europe. In addition to Tagesspiegel, the media partners include Aftenposten, Corriere della Sera, Diario de Noticias, Efimerida ton Syntakton, EU Observer, Gazeta Wyborza, Knack Magazine, Le Journal du Dimanche. In addition to the two authors, Crina Boros, Wojciech Ciesla, Ingeborg Eliassen, Juliet Ferguson, Leila Minano, Nikolas Leontopoulos, Maria Maggiore and Paulo Pena work for “IE”. More about the project:

Macedo, 73, preaches a "theology of prosperity," according to which wealth is an expression of a godly life. For this, his “universal church” collects high tributes from more than six million followers, which made him a billionaire. His organization has been suspected of conducting illegal financial transactions for years. Macedo's lawyers deny this, but authorities are investigating in both Brazil and Portugal.

That was not a problem for the self-appointed bishop's trips to Europe. There are no border guards stationed at Cascais Airport. Passengers who come with their own plane can usually enter the country uncontrolled.

A lack of controls is also common practice in Germany

No controls? Entry without checking the baggage, data comparison with wanted lists and entry in the passenger data register? In times of fear of terrorists, mafiosi and illegal migrants, this seems at best an oversight.

But this is exactly what is common practice in numerous other EU countries, including Germany. For the well-heeled users of private aircraft, research by "Investigate Europe" shows, there is a special right across Europe: Not only can they head for hundreds of smaller airports with their business jets, helicopters and sports planes, where they are only superficially checked or not at all . At the same time - unlike ordinary air passengers - their personal data are not stored in the databases that the EU states use to monitor the journeys of all other citizens.

Arndt Krummen, an expert in the federal police responsible for border security at the police union, warns that this lax approach to private planes is “grossly negligent” and involves “a security risk”.

How susceptible this practice is to criminal abuse is demonstrated by the drug delivery service of four French people, which made headlines as "Air Cocaine". They regularly brought their goods to France and Belgium on a Dassault Falcon jet. They were arrested in March 2013, but not at their destination, the St. Tropez airfield, where they could expect to pass uncontrolled. Rather, they went into the network of the Dominican Republic police before the start in Punta Cana.

"Private air traffic is the Achilles' heel of internal security"

"Private air traffic is the Achilles' heel of internal security," warns David Weinberger, an expert at the state institute for security studies in France. However, Weinberger explains that the privilege for the rich has “a political side: people with private jets usually have good connections with the government. No local police chief would risk his career to mess with them. "

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In fact, private pilots enjoy special political protection. MEPs also learned this when they negotiated the introduction of the EU-wide passenger data register two years ago. The associated guideline (Passenger Names Record, PNR) stipulates that all airlines must transmit the data of their passengers on international flights to the police when booking and then again after boarding. Not only the travel route, but also the registration address, payment method and baggage items are recorded.

Because of the massive storage of personal data, the project was controversial for a long time. The EU data protection officer Giovanni Buttarelli warned in September 2015 that it had "serious problems for data protection and transparency" and was "a step into the surveillance society". The Parliament's Justice Committee therefore initially rejected the whole project.

The mood turned after the terrorist attacks in Paris

After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the mood turned. The then French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve castigated the critics as "irresponsible" because they would prevent "that we protect Europe from the risk of terrorism". And the parliamentarians gave in.

However, the legal text contained an astonishing loophole: only the regular airlines were obliged to transmit data. The passengers of private planes and rental jets for business people were expressly excluded. "It is necessary to collect the passenger data of all aircraft operators in order to avoid the existence of exploitable loopholes," demanded the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Socialist MP Ana Gomes from Portugal also made the exception suspicious. That is why she drafted an amendment together with colleagues from all political groups to close the gap. This was also included in the resolution that Parliament sent to the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission.

Exceptions for aircraft with up to 19 passengers

But then something strange happened: The responsible commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos praised the PNR register as "a key element in identifying traveling terrorists and tracking down criminal networks". But he rejected Parliament's motion. The governments of the member countries did not want to "recognize any dangers with private jets," reports an official involved.

Instead, they asserted "technical problems" for the business aviators. The European Business Aviation Association had previously argued in exactly the same way. Its members are "small businesses that do not have electronic booking systems with which to transfer data," declared the lobbyists. That is why "small aircraft with up to 19 passengers" should be excluded, they demanded.

That's exactly how it happened. The parliamentarians submitted, and the gap remained. Since then, private pilots have enjoyed special data protection. According to MEP Ana Gomes, this shows “that governments are not serious when they claim that they are passing a law to combat terrorism and then they are building such a loophole”.

This also applies to the federal government. "Private aviation would not fit into the technical system of the EU PNR system," said a spokeswoman for Interior Minister Horst Seehofer when asked why the ministry was taking part. In any case, "the risk of potential terrorists entering the country in this way is currently rated as rather low," she explained.

This assessment is daring. Because the security authorities have no data basis for this. "The smaller airfields are a gray area for entry from abroad," reports a federal police officer who has been working in border control at airports for more than 20 years. There are usually no trained border officials on duty at these so-called airfields. Rather, the controls have been "outsourced" to private security forces, "who mostly have no idea how to identify forged documents". For "rich criminals and terrorists with enough money" it is "no problem to enter Germany there," he warns. But "because there are no controls", there are also no cases.

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