News reports of two passengers on the missing MH370 flight allegedly travelling on passports that were stolen in Phuket seems to have exposed Thailand as a regional hub of nefarious goings on. Yet, nobody is surprised.
An Italian and an Austrian lost their passports in Phuket last year. They lodged complaints with the Thai police and were issued new passports by their respective missions.
Earlier this week, their names popped up in the passenger list of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, which was en route to Beijing. But, these two gentlemen were never on the flight.
However, this is not the first time that something like this has been reported in Thailand. In fact, criminal activities recorded in the Kingdom have gone far beyond something as simple as this.
International criminal syndicates of all kinds such as arms and narcotics traders, human traffickers, sex businesses, money-laundering operations and even terrorists have used Thailand as a hub to facilitate their tasks.
It is easy to find products, materials and facilities for grey, if not totally black, businesses.
Those who are in trouble at home can easily seek shelter, lead easy lives and even run businesses here. Gangsters of all sorts, be they from Asia, Russia or anywhere in the West, always feel at home in Thailand.
So-called freedom fighters, also referred to as insurgents and terrorists in some circles, can find a good supply of equipment in the logistically friendly Thailand. Fighters of different ideologies pass through, take vacations or even go underground in Thailand. They can meld into the rest of the population in places like Phuket, Pattaya, Sukhumvit Road, Nana or Khao San Road.So, why Thailand?
Geographically, the Kingdom is located in the centre of Southeast Asia and its transportation infrastructure makes it easy to link up with other regions.
Since Thailand is also close to places where guerrilla warfare is ongoing, the demand for small arms is very high. Plus, it is the land of narcotics producers and drug lords are still very active in the country.
Some of these drug traffickers also double as warlords, using the money they make from narcotics to finance their battles back home. They have been waging these wars and doing this businesses since the middle of last century.
Nowhere is it as easy to make a deal as in Thailand, as the country's laws and law-enforcement operations are very weak. It is easy to bribe officials and pave the way for illegal businesses, not to mention the high-ranking officials who also have a hand in this grey business.
Though other countries in Southeast Asia are not much better than Thailand in terms of law enforcement and corruption, the Kingdom appears to be a safer haven, thanks to its facilities allowing all kinds of transactions.
For instance, technology in Thailand is advanced, which means it is easy to find high-quality printing machines for producing false documents. Though telecommunications in Thailand may not be as good as in Singapore, it is good enough for communication as well as data and financial transactions.
Though the Thai banking system isn't as good as at Singapore, which is a regional financial hub, it is good enough for mafia members to move dirty money between Bangkok and the rest of the world.
Thailand has a strong and consistent tourism policy, generating quick and easy money from tens of millions of visitors every year. It welcomes people from all over the world and its loose and weak immigration control system offers human traffickers channels to work actively and efficiently.
Though helping Malaysia look for the missing plane is a good, humanitarian effort, perhaps the government should consider using its resources to identify false documents. Maybe using resources efficiently and correctly could help solve several serious problems.