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Police in Pattaya are currently investigating a travel agency in the city where it has been reported that the two air tickets used by the men holding the stolen passports used on Malaysian Airline Flight MH370 were obtained.
Pattaya Police Chief Colonel Supachai visited two agencies in south and central Pattaya on Monday.
The passports were stolen from Mr. Luigi Maraldi, an Italian national and Mr. Christian Kozel, an Austrian national. The tickets were purchased through the Grand Horizon travel agency. The Six Stars Travel Company was used to complete the sales of the tickets on the 6th of March for the 8th for the March flight.
Police removed documentation from both Agencies but so far have refused to give any details to the media about exactly what was seized.
Each year Thai authorities struggle to track thousands of lost or stolen passports. Some are known to be sold through syndicates to drug traffickers, others, it is believed, end up in the hands of Islamic militants. Some passports are sold by their owners to raise funds.
Stolen passports are often altered and new photographs are inserted, but often the fraudulent users simply hope to pass off as the real owner of the passport.
The passenger manifest issued by Malaysia Airlines included the names of two Europeans – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – who were not on the plane. Both had passports stolen on the Thai holiday island of Phuket.
Thailand’s fake document business has been flourishing for years. In 2010, Thai and Spanish authorities arrested suspected members of an international ring providing forged passports to militants. Thai authorities say the ring may have passed fake documents to those behind the Madrid train bombings in 2004.
Pockets of Bangkok are notorious counterfeit goods emporiums with fake drivers’ licenses, press cards and airline cabin crew identity cards on display. The Thai capital also boasts experts in forging visas.
“Thailand is fertile territory for people looking to steal European passports, there are lots of foreigners and many foreigners visit,” a European diplomat said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said more than 60,000 passports – both Thai and foreign – were reported missing or stolen in Thailand between January 2012 and June 2013.
Phuket police officer Angkarn Yasanop said foreigners can earn $200 to sell their passport and then report it stolen. Many lost or stolen passports end up with Thais and other Southeast Asians trying to migrate for work, he said.