Thailand exposed as crime hub over MH370 stolen passports

Thailand exposed as crime hub over MH370 stolen passports

BANGKOK - Thailand's role as a hub for criminal networks using false documents is in the spotlight after two unknown passengers on vanished flight MH370 used passports stolen in the kingdom, sparking fears of a terror attack.

Two European names were on the passenger list for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared in the early hours of Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

 

But neither Christian Kozel, an Austrian, nor Luigi Maraldi from Italy, ever boarded the plane - instead two mystery passengers used their passports, which had been stolen from the men in separate incidents in Thailand.

The revelation has triggered a terror probe by Malaysian authorities, who are working with other intelligence agencies including the FBI.

"Thailand has been used by some international terrorist groups as a zone of operation, to raise funds or to plan attacks," said Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst on terrorism in South-East Asia.

In 2010, two Pakistanis and a Thai woman were arrested in Thailand on suspicion of making false passports for Al-Qaeda linked groups, as part of an international operation linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

But Banlaoi stressed that the false passports used on the Malaysia flight "could also be linked to other criminal activities, like illegal immigration".

"Thailand is a destination for international crime organisations who use it to secure travel documents, financial documents," a Thai intelligence source told AFP.

"It's not just linked to terrorism but to other crimes. It's a complex network, connected to other networks."

The intricate web includes Thais and foreigners, passport thieves, counterfeiters, intermediaries and clients, he said.

Thai police have announced an investigation into a possible passport racket on the resort island of Phuket - Maraldi's passport was stolen there in 2013 and Kozel's on a flight from Phuket to Bangkok, according to authorities in Vienna.

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