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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot Rebuffs Smuggling Allegations

Flagship carrier Aeroflot on Wednesday dismissed as hearsay allegations that its staff members had been involved in the organized smuggling of counterfeit DVDs into the United States.

An article published in the Los Angeles Times last month cited a California-based dealer of pirate DVDs as saying that Aeroflot employees routinely supplied him with hundreds of disks, transporting them in their personal luggage.

"No Aeroflot staff member was stopped at customs or at the border and caught doing this," Irina Danenberg, the company's chief spokeswoman, said by telephone. "If a staff member was actually caught, then there would be a hearing. But it's all hearsay."

The company's staff has to go through the same customs and security controls as regular passengers, she said. "It's a question for customs, they check the baggage. Aeroflot staff are allowed to carry exactly the same things that passengers are," she said.

The Los Angeles Times article quoted an anonymous Russian merchant as saying that several stores in the U.S. city had for years depended on Aeroflot to supply books, CDs and other items from Moscow, charging between $6 and $8 per kilogram.

On Friday, U.S. Congressman Howard Berman, a member of the judiciary subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property in the U.S. House of Representatives, called on the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to investigate allegations of a breach in customs enforcement.

But airline experts said it was improbable that staff would find it any easier to smuggle goods into the United States than would regular passengers.

In the wake of recent terror attacks it is highly unlikely that airport staff can circumvent security and customs checks to get illegal merchandise onto planes, said Boris Rybak, an analyst with the Infomost aviation consultancy.

At the same time, however, wages are often very low in Russian airlines, he said, meaning that some staff may be more willing than their Western counterparts to make money by reselling goods transported in their luggage.

While a pilot in the United States flying large passenger aircraft might make $350,000 per year, his Russian counterpart could hope to make under $100,000, while his deputy would make half that, Rybak said. Cabin crew earn up to $1,000 per month according to Sibir, the country's No. 2 airline.

Sibir and UTair carriers agreed that the baggage of airline staff had to go through the same customs and security checks as regular passengers. "No exceptions are made for our staff," UTair spokesman Yury Mushchkin said.