Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Sorting out the Post Office

Two major cases of theft in five years have reduced consumer confidence in the postal service

AN administrative probe is expected to shed light into serious security shortcomings and control failures at the Cyprus Post, uncovered last week when a 37-year-old employee was arrested and confessed that he stole some 220 sacks of incoming and outgoing air mail over an extended period of 18 months.

This needs to be done in order to tighten security and avoid similar future instances, senior post inspector Pavlos Pavlides told the Sunday Mail.

The incident prompted public outcry over the sheer number of items stolen, as well as the period over which the thief was able to operate unnoticed. But what the unsuspecting public might not remember is that this was not the first time similar incidents have been seen, prompting questions of adequate measures to tackle the problem taken late – if at all.

In fact, there are a number of previous instances, but the experience of one particular frequent user of the Cyprus Post’s services is telling.

A trailer full of letters and packages at Larnaca airport
A trailer full of letters and packages at Larnaca airport

In February 2011, a 28-year-old employee of now-defunct Cyprus Airways was arrested on suspicion of having stolen over €5,000 in cash from various postal sacks from the air-mail storage facility at Larnaca airport. A short story appeared in the press, along with a generic photo showing unsorted mail hanging messily out of bulging mail bags. By a freakish fluke, Jacky Durrant, an expat living permanently in Larnaca, recognised a package she had been expecting in the picture. A set of three had been posted at the same time, from the same post office in the UK, but only two arrived. She contacted the Cyprus Post Office to enquire, but was told anything that could be delivered already had been, and never received that third parcel.

Five years later, she read about another thief, this time a 37-year-old postal worker at Larnaca airport, who confessed stealing – compulsively, he told the court – some 220 mail sacks over 18 months, before being caught last week. Once more, officials announced that “mail on which the recipient is identifiable will be returned”. As luck would have it, Jacky was once more expecting a registered envelope, which had been posted to Cyprus from the UK a week earlier.

Fortunately, this one finally made it to her 14 days later, with some probably justifiable delay due to the police investigation into missing mail sacks. Jacky was not impressed with the Cyprus Post’s failure to introduce adequate measures against theft of mail, five years after identifying the blind spots in the system. Although the 2011 incident involved a Cyprus Airways employee, it should have obviously prompted an inward look into security procedures at all government services involved in mail delivery, she believes

“I just cannot believe that the latest theft of mail managed to go undetected for 18 months,” she told the Sunday Mail.

“Considering the previous arrest I would have expected to find that a higher level of security had been installed. Why no CCTV?”

Amazingly, the air mail sorting area at Larnaca airport does have closed-circuit TV, though it was obviously not enough to prevent the unauthorised removal of mail sacks from the area into an employee’s private vehicle over a prolonged period of 18 months. Police are currently reviewing footage for any incriminating evidence against the postal worker, who appears to have removed the sacks into his private vehicle – instead of the Post’s designated van – outside normal working hours.

“No system is 100 per cent foolproof,” Pavlides said, by way of justifying the gaping security holes.

“The challenges facing the Cyprus Post are a global phenomenon, not one specific to Cyprus.”

With that, he went on to list problems specific to Cyprus.

“There are a series of objective issues, like the sorting area at the Larnaca airport,” he said.

“It’s actually located at the premises of the old airport, which means that it takes much longer to physically transport incoming mail from the planes to the sorting area, and vice versa for outgoing mail.”

Additionally, Pavlides said, the site is not secure, meaning there are no police patrols, nor controlled entry.

“We have fenced off the site and installed CCTV, but there are no physical checks as to who comes and goes, and carrying what,” he said.

Measures to avoid future thefts are being considered, Pavlides added, but the operation of the national post office is regulated by global treaties, the rules of which are adopted uniformly across countries.

“Obviously, in order to steal mail sacks, the thief spotted a security challenge,” he said.

The post office at Eleftheria Square in Nicosia
The post office at Eleftheria Square in Nicosia

“The Cyprus Post chief has ordered an administrative probe, which is ongoing, and this will help reveal weaknesses. But in the meantime, some interim preventive measures were introduced: for instance, a second employee, not involved in the process of mail sorting at the airport, now has to sign off on the number of sacks received and forwarded. Also, physical security has been strengthened.”

However, theft from the Larnaca airport sorting area is but one of the Cyprus Post’s problems. Mail can get lost without necessarily having been stolen, and what’s worse is that, when it comes to regular mail, there is literally zero accountability – if your letter or parcel hasn’t made it to the recipient, you have absolutely no recourse. It’s almost as if you apply to a state utility, like your local water board or the power company, and they agree to supply you with water or electricity, but they do so only sometimes, and, worse still, there’s no one to turn to when it happens.

“Regular mail is not easy to track, but that’s the nature of the postal service,” Pavlides said.

So, then, it really does come down to this: with regard to regular mail, customers are expected to pay for the service while accepting that there is no guarantee that their mail will actually be delivered – nor that, if not delivered, someone will be tasked with tracking it.

“We make every effort to deliver our services speedily and safely, but this is the nature of postal services,” Pavlides repeated.

“These are the rules.”

Meanwhile, as any online consumer will tell you, companies refusing to deliver to Cyprus by post, because they have no confidence that the goods will actually be delivered, is not an uncommon occurrence.

“No wonder some companies will not deliver to Cyprus – they say they receive too many complaints of goods not arriving,” Jacky said.

On Tuesday, the 37-year-old compulsive mail thief was remanded for another eight days, following an eight-day initial remand. In yet another impressively irrational twist, he remains a postal worker, and may – or may not – be fired when his legal woes are over, one way or another.

Meanwhile, Jacky is still waiting for a present mailed to her from a relative in Australia last January, and Christmas is coming.

 



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