Thai police bust fake passport ring

Fake passports (above) on display ahead of a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday. Hamid Reza Jafary (left) allegedly produced thousands of passports for Middle Eastern clients.
Fake passports (above) on display ahead of a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday. Hamid Reza Jafary allegedly produced thousands of passports for Middle Eastern clients.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Fake passports (above) on display ahead of a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday. Hamid Reza Jafary (left) allegedly produced thousands of passports for Middle Eastern clients.
Fake passports on display ahead of a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday. Hamid Reza Jafary (above) allegedly produced thousands of passports for Middle Eastern clients.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Alleged Iranian kingpin and five Pakistani middlemen nabbed in raid after 5-year probe

BANGKOK • Thai police rounded up six foreigners allegedly behind one of the country's biggest and best counterfeit passport operations, officers said yesterday, in a country where a flourishing fake document industry has long fuelled traffickers and other criminal gangs.

Five years of investigation culminated in the arrest of alleged Iranian kingpin Hamid Reza Jafary, a 48-year-old man also known as "The Doctor", who had been crafting forgeries from his home in Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok, police said. He had allegedly been producing thousands of passports to Middle Eastern customers trying to enter Europe.

"He himself used six different passports - three from Brazil, and one each from Peru, Portugal and New Zealand. He was wanted by security agencies in many countries, especially the EU and Japan," said immigration police commander Nathathorn Prousoontorn.

Five Pakistani middlemen were also arrested in a Monday raid for assisting the forgery ring, which allegedly shipped passports to overseas clients for up to 80,000 baht (S$3,200) each. The kingdom has long been a hub for a forged document industry serving human traffickers and other criminals.

Jafary's fake passports were the "best quality in the market", said an immigration officer, who asked not to be named. But he could not fake the latest microchipped travel documents, police added.

"He (Jafary) produced passports for people from countries including Iran, Syria and Afghanistan who were escaping wars and wanted to enter Europe," said Lieutenant-General Nathathorn.

Clients e-mailed "The Doctor" their photos and specified the country for which they wanted a passport, the commander said, adding that he guaranteed customers they would not be detected by border officials. The documents were then sent via private courier companies.

Some of the nearly 200 travel documents found in the raid on Jafary's home were completely forged while others had been stolen from tourists and doctored, police said.

The raid also uncovered a laser engraving machine, rolls of thin leather for passport covers and metal stamps from several countries. Thousands of passports are reported missing yearly in Thailand where forged documents can be easily purchased on the streets. The flourishing market has helped establish Thailand as a hub for human traffickers and smugglers.

Two Uighur men awaiting trial for planting a deadly bomb in Bangkok last August have also been accused by police of running a crime group which helped illegal migrants to obtain counterfeit documents. The pair are currently being held in a military prison.

In 2014, the spotlight also swung onto the Thai-based trade when two mystery passengers boarded the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 using European passports stolen in Thailand.

In 2010, the Thai authorities participated in an international police sting that saw two Pakistanis and a Thai woman arrested in Thailand for providing fake passports to extremist groups behind global terror attacks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Thai police bust fake passport ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe