BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai police have broken up a major fake passport ring led by an Iranian known as "The Doctor" which sent thousands of passports to Middle Eastern customers trying to enter Europe, officers said on Wednesday (Feb 10).
Five years of investigation culminated in Monday's arrest of the alleged Iranian mastermind Hamid Reza Jafary, police said. The 48-year-old had for many years been crafting sophisticated forgeries from his home in Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok, they said.
The kingdom has long been a hub for a forged document industry serving human traffickers and other criminals.
"He (Jafary) produced passports for people from countries including Iran, Syria and Afghanistan who were escaping wars and wanted to enter Europe," said immigration police commander Lieutenant General Nathathorn Prousoontorn.
Clients emailed "The Doctor" their photos and specified the country for which they wanted a passport, the commander said, adding he guaranteed customers they would not be detected by border officials. The forged documents were then sent via private courier companies.
It was not immediately clear if "The Doctor" provided passports to people fleeing to Europe during the current migrant crisis.
"He himself used six different passports - three from Brazil, and one from each of Peru, Portugal and New Zealand. He was wanted by security agencies in many countries, especially the EU and Japan," Nathathorn added.
Jafary's fake passports were the "best quality in the market", an immigration officer who asked not to be named told AFP. But he could not fake the latest microchipped travel documents, police added.
Five Pakistani middlemen were also arrested in raids in and around Bangkok for assisting the forgery ring, which allegedly shipped passports to overseas clients for up to 80,000 baht (S$3,153).
Some of the nearly 200 travel documents found in a Monday 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 various countries.
Thousands of passports are reported missing annually in Thailand, where forged documents of every variety can be 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 that helped illegal migrants 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 Thai authorities took part in an international police sting that saw two Pakistanis and a Thai woman arrested in Thailand for providing fake passports to groups behind global terror attacks.