Bangkok – Thailand's status as a major tourist destination in Asia has also turned it into a world leader in supplying forged passports for terrorists, fraudsters and fugitives. The most commonly seized fakes are Belgian, French, Portugese and Spanish passports, which the Thai police say are easily copied.
"The people who use these fake documents and passports are terrorists, fugitives and people illegally transferring or laundering money or opening bank accounts," Colonel Chote Kuldiloke, of Thailand's Immigration Police Bureau, told the Associated Press.
Up to 90 per cent of fake passports leaving Thailand are bound for London, said a Thai policeman who works closely with the Australian police.
These fake passports bear passable likeness to the originals and cost the buyer between US$25 and US$50 each. They are often used within the destination country to open bank accounts or rent apartments.
The most valued ones are the lost or stolen passports – some of which have been sold by tourists to black market buyers. These are used by criminals to cross borders, where immigration officials are better trained to spot fakes. Many of these passports are sold by, or stolen from the more than 10 million tourists who visitThailand each year.
"Some Westerners will sell their passports for US$500 to get quick cash, and they'll say it was stolen, so it's hard to crack down," Col Chote said.
Passports with visas are even more valuable. A passport with visas to the United States or the United Kingdom, which are hard to fake because of stricter security measures, can sell for US$2,400.
An added "incentive" for those involved in the business is that the maximum punishment for the crime is relatively light – five years' jail time and a US$240-fine for faking Thai government documents or possession of stolen property, such as a foreign passport. But the penalty is multiplied by the number of fake documents seized.
* Thailand emerges as fake passport capital (The Straits Times, Sept 9)