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Date [ 2014-03-25, 12:17 ]

A strong black-market for fake documents thrives in Thailand

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) RamaniRathir =In the wake of two Iranians using forged passports to get on board the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight, it has come to light the passports were obtained in Phuket, Thailand. What has also been realized is that this town is not only an international seaside resort but also a thriving centre for forged and illegal passports.

In fact the Phuket police have admitted they cannot do much to stem this clandestine business. The main reason being there is no ruling to prevent motorcycle and car rental operators from holding foreign tourists’ passports as collateral against non-return or damage to rented vehicles.

In the case of the two Iranians, they used the passports stolen from two Europeans - Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi.Kozel’s passports was used as collateral at a massage salonthat was holding the essential travel document as collateral.

The other passport, belonging to Maraldi who was on holiday in Phuket last year, was being held by the owner of BN Massage,Somsak Sornsut, as collateral on a motorbike Maraldi had rented. Somsak disclosed, “His passport was kept at the shop as a guarantee, but, if for any reason he had need of it, he could come back and use it. But until the motorbike was returned, he had to hand in his passport at my shop by the end of the day.”

The owner then revealed,“My staff called to say that a foreigner had come to collect his passport. When asked who, she replied it was Maraldi. Based on the fact that he always brought his passport back to the shop in time, I let my staff hand it to him.”

Somsak went on to mention,“My staff showed the foreigner four passports and let him choose his own. The man collected one of them and left aRussian woman’s passport in exchange, saying it was his wife. My staff had no doubt that it was Maraldi because the man who collected the passport looked similar to the picture in it.”

Days later Somsak had forgotten about the exchange until Maraldi came to the shop asking for his passport. He was told that he had already collected it. All the passports in the shop were checked and every customer was asked if they had taken the wrong one. Of course all of them confirmed they had not.After waiting for three days in case the passport was returned, Somsak and Maraldi lodged a missing report with the Patong police.

Somsak told the PhuketGazettehe very well knew holding passports was wrong, but claimed he gave tourists a choice.“Customers can either leave their passport as a guarantee, or they can leave a copy of their passport and pay a cash deposit.

The cash deposit is about 5,000 to 10,000 baht for motorcycles, and about 10,000 to 20,000 baht for cars,” he said.  He revealed that regular customers were exempted from paying anything. “If we know the person well enough, all we require is their passport number.”

Thai police had a copy of Maraldi's passport with the original photograph of Maraldi in it when the travel booking was made. But they could not tell if the tickets were bought online or collected.Staffs at one travel agency have been questioned.

Perhaps it was a lucky break for Maraldi, for the person who used the stolen passport has disappeared on Flight MH370. Maraldi meanwhilewas later found safe at a guesthouse on Nanai Road in Patong, with a new passport.

Later investigations have revealed the two Iranians, Pouri Nourmohammadi, 19, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, had no terrorist links but simply heading to Europe via Beijing, to seek asylum in Germany. In fact, Pouri’s mother was waiting for his arrival in Frankfurt.

“Something needs to be done, especially after learning that these two passports were used to board the plane,” Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Arayapan Pukbuakao told a Thai newspaper. 

He continued by saying,“We are looking into what measures we can take, but as far as I know, there is no law in Thailand prohibiting foreigners from handing his or her own passport to another person to hold as per their own agreement.”

The commander admits his officers are powerless to prosecute vehicle rental operators. So he has warned that tourists are required by law to have their passports with them at all times. He reminded,“If foreigners and tourists are unable to produce their passports to authorities on demand, they can be fined or even deported.”

Commander Arayapan announced he will have his officers launch a campaign asking rental vehicle operators to refrain from holding passports.Such campaigns have been held in Phuket, usually at the insistence of foreign ambassadors and honorary consuls.

Last July, Tourism and Sports Minister, Somsak Pureesrisak had strongly called for this practice of foreign passports being held as security for the rental of motorbikes, cars or jet-skis.

One wonders why it is onlyin Phuket and Samui that operators of car and motor-cycle shops, demandthat the renters leave their passports as collateral, when elsewhere in Thailand a photocopy of the passport is used?

Clean Up Phuket Region 8 campaigner, Commander Major General Panya Mamen is keen to find an alternative system of tourists using their passports to motorcycle and car hirers as collateral. It is believed that these rental shops will sell passports for a good price, and sometimes even tourists who run short of money have been known to sell their passports.

Major General Panya hopes to come up with a foolproof system of safeguarding passports.

The rental companies have argued that some foreigners use a third party’s passport to rent and then steal several motorbikes, as had happened in Koh Samui and Krabi. Patong Police Deputy Superintendent, Akanit Danpitaksat reminded these rental agents that they are permitted to only hold copies of passports, and not the original documents.He went on to add, “They must understand that every passport remains the property of a foreign government that issued it.” This seems to have fallen on deaf ears for the practice continuous.

Beware you colud lose your passporrt here,

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