Theft of passports in Thailand and particularly in Phuket is a ‘regular occurrence’
There is, of course, no evidence that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared Friday 7 March just over an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, was the victim of a terror attack. But news that two of the passengers on the flight were travelling on passports stolen in Thailand – one belonging to Italian Luigi Maraldi, who lost it last August when he left it as collateral for a motorbike rented in Phuket, and the other to Austrian Christian Kozel, who reported his lost in the same area some 18 months earlier – has focused attention on the country’s booming trade in stolen and falsified passports.
Some, certainly, have ended up in the hands of terrorists. In June 2012, the month that Butt was sentenced to 15 years in jail, the DSI smashed another major counterfeiting syndicate, this one accused of issuing some 3,000 falsified passports and visas over the five years of its existence, two of them to Iranians convicted of carrying out a series of botched bomb attacks in Bangkok in February 2012, supposedly aimed at Israeli diplomats. (The counterfeiting gang’s alleged ringleader, Iranian-born Seyed Paknejad, 45, was arrested but jumped bail and fled, on a fake Turkish passport, to Malaysia – where he was re-arrested last year carrying a startling 17 stolen New Zealand passports. Thailand has subsequently asked for his extradition.)
The gangs have targeted Thailand mainly because of the very large numbers of European, US and Australian holidaymakers who travel there every year. But the Bangkok Post’s interview with an unnamed DSI agent quoted him as saying the country was also attractive because it is relatively easy to enter and leave; “you can negotiate with some law enforcement people”; and – importantly – some local officials have not tended to see the forgery of foreign (as opposed to Thai) passports as a particularly serious offence.