Warning over forged Immigration stamps

PHUKET: The Superintendent of the Phuket Provincial Immigration Office, Pol Col Sayan Krasaesan, has warned foreigners not to use the services of companies or individuals offering immigration services. His warning comes after 12 foreigners were arrested at Sadao Immigration office and others in Bangkok for having forged entry stamps in their passports. The foreigners, including British, New Zealand and French nationals, have since been released on bail of 160,000 baht each. All were arrested while doing legitimate visa runs. Some were doing “turnaround runs” to extend their stay on non-immigrant visas, while others were renewing tourist permits. Immigration officials spotted the bogus entry stamps, indicating that the passport-holders might not have actually left the country when earlier permits to stay had expired. The forged entry stamps purported to have been issued by Immigration offices in Sadao, Tak Bai and Padang Besar entry crossings, but officials say they do not know yet where they were stamped. “Foreigners must go to an Immigration office in person [to get entry permits],” Col Sayan told the Gazette. “They should not give their passports to other people to handle visa matters. “We are investigating agencies that offer this service for foreigners,” he added. The Gazette has learned that other foreigners were stopped and questioned – but not arrested – at Ranong Immigration after they, too, were found to have the forged stamps in their passports. An officer at Ranong Immigration, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Gazette that he knew about the tourists being arrested at Sadao Immigration and in Bangkok. “The problem comes from them using the services of a company in Phuket. “This company took 2,500 baht from each of the foreigners, but didn’t obtain entry permits from Immigration. Instead, it stamped fake stamps in their passports. “It seems that the foreigners didn’t know this was illegal, and that they are the victims. “I think foreigners should know about this news,” he added, “so that they have a better understanding of the rules.” A high-level official at Sadao Immigration, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the 12 foreigners were arrested there in August and September “because they didn’t go to Immigration themselves but gave their passports to the service agent.” The Sadao Immigration office took a harder line than Ranong. “The officers could not determine whether the passport-holders knew the stamps were forged, but we had to assume they did – and if you know a stamp is forged and you still use it, then you are liable to be arrested.” The officer said that, during questioning, the foreigners had not given officials much useful information, but that all of them seemed to believe that using an agent was legal. “I don’t know whether Immigration officers were involved, but it seems unlikely because the Immigration Bureau is currently very tough on corruption,” he added. He said that the forged stamps were similar to real ones but had differences that could be detected by officials. “If you came to Immigration in person [to get an entry stamp], then you have no need to worry,” he added. Pol Col Apirak Hongtong, former head of Immigration in Phuket and now Deputy Commander of Phuket Provincial Police, advised “innocent” foreigners who did not realize that they had broken the law by using an agent to obtain immigration stamps, to go to his office to straighten matters out, rather than waiting to be arrested. “Bring your passport to me and I will advise you and help you as much as I can,” he said. Col Apirak’s office is next to the Phuket Town Police Station on Chumphon Rd. The telephone numbers are 076-212046, 076-212129 or 076-221157.

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