Probe into stolen passports used by pair on missing jet

Pattaya police show a photocopy of a passport belonging to an Italian national which went missing, at a local tour agency branch which processed online ticket booking that was used by one of the two passengers on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight.

Thai police have launched an investigation into the suspicious use of passports by two passengers on board the Malaysian Airlines flight that has gone missing, a senior policeman said yesterday.

Two unidentified passengers used passports belonging to other people, who have since revealed they did not board the ill-fated MH370 flight, said Pol Col Sahaschai Lojaya,a deputy commander of the foreign affairs division.

The investigation committee is made up of immigration police and the foreign affairs division. It is headed by deputy police chief Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit.

The panel has contacted Malaysian police to establish closer work relations and to help find out why and how the two passengers used passports reported stolen in Thailand.

News reports said two Europeans - Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy - were on the passenger list for flight MH370, but neither man boarded the plane, officials said.

Both had passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years.

According to news.com.au website, the tickets booked in Maraldi and Kozel's names were printed out on March 6 and issued in Pattaya. The e-ticket numbers for their flights were consecutive and both were paid for in Thai baht. Each ticket cost $690.

"Kozel'' was booked to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on MH370, then on to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. "Maraldi'' was booked on the same flight until Amsterdam, where he was to continue to Copenhagen.

Pattaya police chief Pol Colonel Suphachai Phuikaewkham said the bookings were made online, initially through Grand Horizon Travel, which contacted Six Stars Travel, which later purchased the air tickets. This meant it was impossible to identify the people who made the bookings, or where they did this, as requests for the bookings were made online, the officer said.

National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanathabutr said a theory that both passengers were terrorists using stolen passports to board the flight had not been confirmed. He said that part of the burden on Thailand would be lifted if owners of the passports had reported them missing or stolen and had applied for new ones.

Asked whether the incident would lead to Thailand having a bad image as a haven for passport forgery, or terrorist activities, he said the Royal Thai Police and the Foreign Ministry would issue statements to clarify the situation.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul proposed the setting up of a database on missing or stolen passports for use by immigration police to arrest people using them at gates to enter or leave the country. He said the latest incident would not affect Thailand's image although the passports were used suspiciously by two passengers on the MH370 flight. Their tickets were bought in Thailand using Thai currency.

A police commander based in Surat Thani vowed to crack down on passport forgery in seven provinces in the upper South under his jurisdiction. Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen said he had set up a task force to seek out forgery rings. He said Thai immigration police were capable of detecting forged passports. They were trying to determine whether the latest forgeries had something to do with terrorist activity and if it may have involved conspirators based in Thailand and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, three Royal Thai Navy vessels and a maritime patrol aircraft were on standby off Songkhla to help with the ongoing search for survivors or possible wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane on further request, a senior Navy commander said yesterday.

They are HTMSs Tapi, Songkhla and Sattahip, docked at Songkhla naval base. A plane was also on standby there, Rear Admiral Chumphol Wongwakin said.

HTMS Pattani had sailed to the Malacca Strait with a helicopter and a maritime patrol aircraft, he said. The Thai Navy has been assigned a search area from Langkawi Island to Pangkor Island off Perak State of Malaysia.

Immigration Police said 2,475 passports were reported missing or stolen in Thailand last year. Russians reported the most, at 384, and Canadian nationals the lowest at 120.

In 2012, 1,924 passports were listed as missing or stolen, with United Kingdom residents reporting the largest number at 369 and Canadian nationals the smallest at 96.