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Drug scandal claims Qantas worker

Qantas expected to stand down more staff next week over a cocaine smuggling ring.
Sydney (Australia)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Luggage security at Sydney airport is under scrutiny amid revelations more baggage handlers may be stood down next week.

The possible action follows allegations that the airport workers are connected with a multi-million dollar cocaine smuggling ring.

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon confirmed Friday that one baggage handler was stood down Thursday following investigations by the New South Wales Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police, and the NSW Police.

Dixon did not say how many more would be stood down but the airline earlier denied a media report that 25 baggage handlers would be dismissed.

The developments have ignited concerns about the security of passenger luggage at Australia's largest international and domestic airport amid fears the drug smuggling is wider than originally thought, and previous claims that unwitting passengers are being used as "drug mules" by drug cartels.

Qantas has defended its security procedures and has rejected the claims, despite comments by a former Australian Federal Police officer that the practice was well known to authorities.

"We have never had one case where someone has put drugs into a (passenger's) bag," Dixon told Sydney Radio 2UE.

The latest drug allegations have sparked top level talks between the Australian government, police, airport and security officials and urgent plans are underway to upgrade security systems and surveillance at Sydney Airport and on aircraft.

Talks are also underway to introduce new federal laws to tighten security operations.

Currently there is no overriding body which is in charge of all airport and airline security.

In the past year there have been a number of breaches of airline security, including allegations of a drug racket at Sydney airport and the firing of a Qantas baggage handler after he removed a camel's outfit from a passenger's suitcase.

Dixon also said he was concerned there was no overriding security authority at the airport, but "as long as we are in charge of our own areas I think it's OK."

He said while U.S. airport security no longer accepted locked bags at any airport, Australian airports do allow passengers to lock bags.

"I think it is very prudent to make sure your baggage is locked," Dixon said.

But he added there was no evidence to suggest Qantas baggage handlers were involved in the case of alleged drug smuggler Australian Schapelle Corby, who has been charged with smuggling marijuana into Bali.

"No one's presented us with any evidence at all to suggest that Qantas employees have been involved with Schapelle Corby," he said.

Australian Customs confirmed it was not compelled to open bags or conduct searches in the presence of a bag's owner, and that searches did not have to be conducted before surveillance cameras.

A spokesman also said customs officers could remove any locks on baggage it wanted to check.

In the United States security officers will break locks on bags if they need to be checked.

Meanwhile, NSW police said that two more men have been charged over a plot to smuggle cocaine into Australia, taking the total number of arrests to 15.

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