Malaysia Airlines was convicted two years ago for boarding a passenger against the wishes of a foreign government by falsifying passport identity records, it has emerged, and was also prosecuted for a similar incident in 2007.
A New Zealand court fined the Malaysian national carrier NZ$5,500 (HK$36,052) in 2012 for allowing a passenger to board its aircraft despite orders not to from immigration authorities in Wellington.
It is unclear why the Malaysian national had been deemed unsuitable to board the flight.
During the breach, which occurred in January 2012, a check-in attendant enabled a Malaysian national to board the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland by entering an altered passport number into the check-in computer, allowing security systems to be circumvented.
It is not clear whether it was a rogue check-in attendant or whether clearance to allow the passenger to board came from management at the airline.
The revelation follows confirmation that at least two passengers boarded missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in Kuala Lumpur with stolen passports, while another passenger held a fake passport. Four passengers in total are under suspicion and an investigation is underway into how such a major security breach could occur.
“Our border systems are designed to prevent people who are ineligible for entry to New Zealand from being allowed to board aircraft offshore,” Peter Elms, an official from Immigration New Zealand, said in a statement at the time of the 2012 prosecution.
“On receiving passenger information at check-in we provide the airline with a directive on whether they can allow the passenger to board or not.
“In this case, on receiving the directive not to board the passenger, the check-in attendant entered an altered passport number, allowing our systems to be circumvented.”
Airlines had a responsibility to meet their obligations under immigration law to maintain the integrity of New Zealand’s immigration system and border security, the statement added.
The statement from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2012 also said that Malaysia Airlines was prosecuted for a similar offence in April 2007.
A spokesman for Malaysia Airlines said no one at the company was available to comment on the conviction.
However, Hugh Dunleavy, an executive vice president at Malaysia Airlines, told the Daily Telegraph on the subject of security checks that it was not the carrier’s responsibility to validate a passport.
“We just need to make sure that if we see a passport, it doesn’t look like it has been forged and it has a legitimate visa. If it all looks legitimate and everything else about the customer is legitimate we will load them on the plane,” Dunleavy said.
The 2012 event demonstrated at the time how passport checks could still be circumvented at the airport.
The fine was issued by Auckland’s Manukau District Court for failing to comply with New Zealand’s Immigration Act 2009.