A former chief operating officer at Polar Air Cargo (PO, New York JFK) was extradited from Thailand to the United States last month to face wire fraud and money laundering charges. Lars Winkelbauer was one of four senior executives at Polar Air Cargo and six vendors indicted by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in April 2023 over an alleged USD52 million fraud. At the time, Winkelbauer was in Thailand, where local authorities arrested him pending his extradition.

According to the Loadstar outlet, authorities processed Winkelbauer upon his arrival in the United States. He was released on a USD750,000 bond and is subject to electronic monitoring. The allegations are that between 2009 and 2021, the ten individuals defrauded Polar Air Cargo by accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks from the vendor defendants in exchange for ensuring that those vendors received favourable business arrangements with Polar. Winkelbauer's matter is the United States v. Winkelbauer, 23-CR-133 (JMF), ECF No. 3 (S.D.N.Y.).

"The defendants, all of whom were either employed in high-level positions by Polar or were vendors reliant on business arrangements with Polar, allegedly showed a blatant disregard for the integrity of their companies in favour of lining their own pockets," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams at the time.

The DOJ alleges that Winkelbauer, along with then VP of Marketing, Revenue Management and Network Planning Abilash Kurien; VP of Operations, Systems Performance and Quality Carlton Llewellyn; and Senior Director, Customer Service and Capacity (Americas) Robert Schirmer, directed the payments from vendors be paid to limited liability companies with generic names that they controlled. Polar Air Cargo, which uncovered the scheme in 2021, estimated that they lost USD52 million. It then terminated the four men's employment and referred the matter to the authorities.

Winkelbauer's LinkedIn profile states that he worked as the COO at Polar Air Cargo between July 2018 and July 2021. Before that, he served as Deputy Chairman of the Board at Air Hong Kong (LD, Hong Kong International); Vice President (Aviation, Network Planning and Control (Asia Pacific)) at DHL; and also as a non-executive director at Blue Dart Aviation (BZ, Chennai). Winkelbauer's most recent aviation-related role was with the prospective Vietnamese start-up IPP Air Cargo (Da Nang), where he had a senior advisory role. However, that airline never took off.

The DOJ has charged Winkelbauer with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud; one count of wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and one count of honest services wire fraud. Each offence carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. ch-aviation does not say the allegations against Winkelbauer and his co-defendants are true, only that they are made.