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Continental under fire for frisking dignitary

India Ex President Frisked
Officials says Kalam was frisked before boarding a Continental Airlines flight to the U.S. in April, in a breach of protocol that exempts VIPs from such searches. Aijaz Rahi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A police inquiry was launched Tuesday into employees from Continental Airlines after a former president of India was frisked before boarding a flight to the United States.

The airline's staff violated a government order on protocol for dignitaries when former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was told to remove his shoes and scanned by a metal detector, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told Parliament.

Patel said airlines are given a list of Indian VIPs who should be exempt from searches.

"This act of frisking the former president ... is absolutely unpardonable and beyond the scope of the laws of our country," Patel told Parliament.

Lawmakers condemned the search of the 77-year-old Kalam as "outrageous."

In a police complaint, the aviation ministry accused Continental's staff of violating government directions, an aviation ministry statement said.

"If convicted, the staff members can be jailed for two years or fined 1 million rupees (U.S. $20,830), or both," said Moushmi Chakravarty, the ministry spokeswoman.

Kalam, who was president from 2002-2007, allowed the search at New Delhi's international airport without complaint, according to an official who works in his office. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The former president was told to remove his shoes and the contents of his pockets, and a hand-held metal detector was run over his body.

A spokeswoman for Continental Airlines Inc. defended the search as a "normal security procedure," according to the Press Trust of India news agency. "There is no special rule for VIPs ... This is the process the airline adheres to," the spokeswoman identified only as Aparna was quoted as saying.

The Houston-based airline did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment.

The incident happened in April but was reported Tuesday by local television networks.