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Hong Kong man loses thousands of dollars allegedly on flight to Japan in rupiah swop

He boarded a Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) flight for Osaka with a stack of notes totalling HK$50,000 ($8,500) in his bag. But hours later, he arrived in Japan with only HK$1,500 of the money left.

A Hong Kong man identified by only his surname Chow told Sing Tao Daily that he was travelling with his girlfriend and a family member on a red-eye flight from the Chinese city to Osaka when someone stealthily replaced his money with Indonesian rupiah on the plane.

It was not clear when the trip took place.

Mr Chow said he was carrying 100 HK$500 bills bundled with a rubber band in his backpack and had intended to exchange the money for yen after he arrived in Japan, Sing Tao Daily reported on Jan 14.

At first he stowed his backpack under his seat on the plane, but a flight attendant asked him to place it in the overhead compartment instead.

Mr Chow said he was sitting in the last row, and the overhead compartment above him had no room for his backpack as it was packed with life vests. Therefore, he placed the bag in an overhead compartment a few seats away from his.

During the flight, he fell asleep.

When he arrived at the destination, he retrieved his backpack, and his stack of cash fell out.

He believed his money had been stolen by then, but he had not noticed the loss because the thief had sandwiched a thick wad of 2,000 rupiah notes - 153 pieces in all and worth HK$1 each - between three HK$500 bills.

It was onboard a train in Japan later when the holidaymaker realised his money was gone.

Mr Chow said his credit card was also missing, and he quickly cancelled the card.

“The most cunning thing about the thief was that he covered the Indonesian money with Hong Kong money to create the illusion that my money was not gone,” said Mr Chow. “This made me miss the opportunity to expose the theft on the plane.”

Mr Chow also blamed the flight attendant for insisting that he put his bag in the overhead compartment, even though he had flown several times without a hitch with the same backpack kept under his seat.

“If I had kept it under my seat, I would be stirred from my sleep if someone moved my bag, but I was made to leave it three or four seats away. On top of that, it was a red-eye flight and the lights were out. Even if I was not asleep, I wouldn’t have noticed something’s amiss,” he added.

Mr Chow filed a police report after he returned from Japan, a claim that was confirmed by Hong Kong police.

In response to media queries, HKA said passengers will be asked to put their bags in the overhead compartment if the bags are of a bigger size to prevent obstruction at certain points, like the exits, on the plane.

Passengers should also inform the cabin crew immediately if their things are stolen, and police officers can be arranged to board the plane for investigation.

In 2023, a Chinese national on a Scoot flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore took another passenger’s bag from an overhead compartment back to his seat and stole money from the bag. He was sentenced to eight months in jail in January 2024.

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