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Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Thai police target passport racket as details emerge of bookings made with stolen passports

Published on Mar 9, 2014 10:21 PM
A customs officer checks the travel documents and passports of passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS  

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai police said on Sunday they were investigating a "passport ring" as details emerged of bookings made in Thailand with stolen European passports for the vanished Malaysia Airlines flight.

Two European names - Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy - were listed on the passenger manifest of the flight MH370, but neither man boarded the plane, officials said.

Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years. Malaysia has launched a terror probe investigating the suspect passengers and the United States has sent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist.

Flight information seen by AFP shows that tickets were booked in Maraldi and Kozel's names on March 6, 2014, and issued in the Thai city of Pattaya, a popular beach resort south of the capital Bangkok.

The e-ticket numbers for their flights are consecutive and both were paid for in Thai baht.

Each ticket cost THB 20,215 (S$794).

Mr Kozel was booked to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, then on to Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Mr Maraldi was booked on the same flights until Amsterdam, where he was to continue to Copenhagen.

Interpol confirmed that "at least two passports" recorded in its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database were used by passengers on board the flight, which was carrying 239 people.

"The Austrian and Italian passports were added to Interpol's SLTD database after their theft in Thailand in 2012 and 2013 respectively," it said in a statement.

A senior Thai police official told AFP that the authorities were probing a passport racket on the resort island of Phuket, where Mr Maraldi's passport was stolen.

"A police team combined with local police and immigration are working to track down a passport ring," southern police commander Panya Mamen said.

A district official in Phuket said that Mr Maraldi had presented himself to the police there on Sunday.

"An Italian tourist, Luigi Maraldi, has met southern police commander today in Phuket to say he was not on the plane and his passport had been stolen since last year," district police lieutenant colonel Akanit Danpitaksart told AFP.

He said they had no information on Mr Kozel's passport, but Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said on Sunday that it had been stolen on a flight from Phuket to Bangkok.