Connect with us

Pattaya

Special Report: Phuket’s stolen passports shine light on illegal migrant corridor to Europe

Legacy Phuket Gazette

Published

 on 

Special Report

Passports stolen in Phuket that were used to board ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have placed Phuket in the center of an international maelstrom. Thousands of passports are reported lost or stolen in Thailand each year, and the region is gaining a reputation as a gateway for international asylum seekers to reach Europe.

The Phuket Gazette’s Saran Mitrarat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre for Reuters in Bangkok report.

PHUKET: Investigations into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 led to the discovery that two men boarded the plane with passports stolen in Phuket (story here) – raising fears that a terrorist attack brought the plane down and claimed the lives of the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.

The men were later identified as Iranian nationals Pouri Nourmohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 29. Mr Nourmohammadi was en route to Frankfurt, Germany, where his mother lives, while Mr Mohammadreza was on his way to Copenhagen.

After days of investigations, the Malaysian Police, Thai Police and Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble all made statements concurring that investigators do not believe the two men had any links to terror organizations.

The men had started their journey in Doha – and were flying halfway round the planet and back again to get to their destinations – leading officials to believe that they were attempting to illegally immigrate to Europe under the cloak of their newly acquired passports.

BOOMING TRADE

The international spotlight shining brightly on the plight of the mysteriously missing aircraft spread its beam to reveal to the world the extent of the illegal passport trade in Thailand – and specifically Phuket as a source of stolen passports.

With huge numbers of visitors and patchy law enforcement, Thailand has a booming black market for fake identity documents. Thai authorities struggle to track thousands of lost or stolen passports each year.

Some are known to be sold on through syndicates to drug traffickers. Others are suspected to have ended up in the hands of Islamist militants.

“Fake passports and identity fraud in general is a massive problem in Thailand,” police commander and Thailand’s Interpol director Apichart Suriboonya said.

They are passed on to middlemen, Thai or foreign, who work with criminal networks, he said. The passports may be altered, for example with a new photograph, but sometimes the fraudulent user hopes to pass as the real owner.

Sometimes documents are sold by their owners to cover travel costs, Col Apichart said.

The passenger manifest issued by Malaysia Airlines included the names of two Europeans – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – who were not on the plane. Both had passports stolen in Phuket (story here).

The passports were used to buy tickets from travel agents in Pattaya, for flights to Beijing and on to Europe. Thai and foreign investigators were questioning staff at one travel agency on Monday.

Police showed Reuters a copy of Mr Maraldi’s passport used to make the travel booking with what was apparently the original photograph of Mr Maraldi in it. It was not immediately clear if the tickets were bought online or collected.

Thailand’s fake document business has been flourishing for years.

In 2010, Thai and Spanish authorities arrested suspected members of an international ring providing forged passports to militants. Thai authorities say the ring may have passed fake documents to those behind the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

Pockets of Bangkok are notorious counterfeit goods emporiums with fake drivers’ licenses, press cards and airline cabin crew identity cards on display. The Thai capital also boasts experts in forging visas.

“Thailand is fertile territory for people looking to steal European passports. There are lots of foreigners and many foreigners visit,” a European diplomat said.

UNSAVORY CHARACTERS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said more than 60,000 passports – both Thai and foreign – were reported missing or stolen in Thailand between January 2012 and June 2013.

Phuket Police said they get reports of up to 10 lost passports a month in the province.

Capt Angkarn Yasanop at Phuket Immigration said foreigners can make more than 6,000 baht by selling their passport and then reporting it as stolen. Many lost or stolen passports end up with Thais and other Southeast Asians trying to migrate for work, he said.

Larry Cunningham, who recently retired as Australia’s long-serving honorary consul in Phuket, said major problems arise when tourists leave passports as a deposit when renting jet-skis or motorbikes.

Crooked operators then make a false allegation of damage to the vehicles. The tourist, unwilling to pay, forfeits the passport and reports it stolen at an embassy or consulate and gets a new one. The old passport is sold into the underworld.

“Phuket has some very, very unsavory characters and they’re not all Thais,” Mr Cunningham said. “Nothing would surprise me about Phuket.”

RED FLAGS

Interpol’s stolen and lost travel documents (SLTD) database contains 40 million records from 167 countries, but its secretary general, Ronald Noble, says not enough countries are using it.

“The bad news is that, despite being incredibly cost effective and deployable to virtually anywhere in the world, only a handful of countries are systematically using SLTD to screen travelers,” he told a conference last month.

Col Apichart said Thai databases were not properly linked to Interpol data.

“The technology we use in Thailand to check fraudulent identity cards is outdated at many points of entry,” he said.

SYRIANS IN LIMBO

The outdated passport-checking equipment used by Thai officials saw six other travellers – four Syrians and two Lebanese men – slip through immigration at Phuket International Airport with Greek passports to board a flight to Beijing in January (story here).

The incident highlighted the growing trend for illegal immigrants – asylum seekers or not – to travel to Asia and then on to Europe in the hope of repatriating there.

Chinese officials returned the six men – all believed to be genuine asylum seekers – to Phuket after identifying the passports they were using as fakes.

The men remain under house guard at Phuket International Airport awaiting deportation to a safe destination.

“They left Syria by taking a car to Lebanon without passing through an immigration checkpoint,” explained one airport immigration officer who asked not to be named.

When the men arrived in Lebanon, they were denied 60-day tourist visas by the Thai embassy there.

“There were concerns that if they were allowed to enter Thailand, they would not leave due to the ongoing civil war in their home country,” the officer said.

The men somehow acquired six fake Greek passports, then boarded a flight from Lebanon to Doha and finally arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok by Qatar Airways on December 31, he explained.

The route taken by the refugees was nearly identical to that of the two Iranian nationals who also began their journey in Doha.

“Our records show the six men

 

Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram

image

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Thailand6 hours ago

Thailand News Today | Nov 1 reopening proposed; arrest for “sexy” officer cosplay | September 24

Coronavirus (Covid-19)7 hours ago

Covid-19 UPDATE: Provincial totals, vaccinations and more

Coronavirus (Covid-19)9 hours ago

Contrary to Anutin, US says delivery of vaccines awaits Thailand

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Thailand9 hours ago

Sunsets, ‘Farangs’ and Boring Charisma | Thaiger Bites | Ep. 25

Thailand10 hours ago

CCSA approves reopening delay, state of emergency extension

Thailand11 hours ago

Video of feet on bread appears to be from India, not Thailand

image
Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand12 hours ago

Thailand Top Stories | Thailand’s security council approves Emergency Decree extension | Sep 24

Coronavirus (Covid-19)12 hours ago

Phuket Covid-19: 3 new deaths, 322 released from medical care

Malaysia13 hours ago

Malaysia considers further re-opening to domestic tourism

Thailand13 hours ago

Thailand Re-opening, Costs and challenges | Good Morning Thailand | Ep. 96

Weather13 hours ago

Weather warning issued as tropical storm Dianmu approaches

Coronavirus (Covid-19)14 hours ago

Education ministry to accelerate vaccination of over 200,000 teachers

Myanmar14 hours ago

US judge orders Facebook to disclose anti-Rohingya content as part of international case against Myanmar

Tourism15 hours ago

Tourism operators slam government as re-opening postponed to November

Coronavirus (Covid-19)15 hours ago

Friday Covid Update: 12,697 new cases and 132 deaths

Tourism3 days ago

Travel data to Thailand for 106 million people unprotected online

Economy5 days ago

Cuts to import duty on alcohol, cigars, part of plan to entice wealthy foreigners

Crime3 days ago

OnlyFans content creators arrested by Thai police on pornography charges

Thailand4 days ago

Party at luxury villa in Phuket raided, homeowner allegedly assaults police officer

Coronavirus Vaccines5 days ago

Doctors say cardiac arrest caused death of man given AstraZeneca booster shot

Tourism6 days ago

Local businesses say they aren’t profiting from Phuket Sandbox

Coronavirus (Covid-19)5 days ago

Covid-19: Detailed info on vaccinations, hospitalisations, and provinces

Thailand5 days ago

Around 20 people arrested at Koh Samui restaurant for drinking alcohol, gambling, playing pool

Bangkok4 days ago

Governor says Bangkok will only re-open when safe to do so

Thailand4 days ago

Bangkok re-opening Criteria, Thai Airways keeps Struggling | Good Morning Thailand | Episode 93

Phuket2 days ago

Police suddenly began raiding Patong bars selling alcohol

Thailand4 days ago

Morning Top Stories | No approved October re-opening, Phuket easing restrictions | September 20

Crime2 days ago

Ex-cop “Joe Ferrari,” other officers charged with violating discipline policy over suspect’s death

Phuket5 days ago

Phuket domestic travel rules need streamlining, officials discuss

Thailand4 days ago

Government warns that posting pornographic material is illegal following OnlyFans creator being questioned by police

Thailand1 week ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism7 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism7 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism7 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Trending