Passport 'brains' held

KUALA LUMPUR - Police believe they have busted Southeast Asia's largest human trafficking and passport counterfeiting syndicate following the arrest of its suspected Iranian mastermind in Jalan Ampang, here, on Saturday.

Seyed Ramin Miraziz Paknejad, 45, who is also wanted by Thai authorities for questioning, is believed to be responsible for providing counterfeit travel documents to terrorists who carried out bombings in Thailand in February last year.

Federal police Special Task Force (operations and counter terrorism) director Datuk Mohamad Fuzi Harun said an operation to arrest Seyed Ramin and his wife was successfully conducted after intelligence gathered led police to his whereabouts.

"Following information, a team of officers conducted surveillance on him for two weeks before arresting him and his 41-year-old wife on Saturday."

A team of officers followed Seyed Ramin, who was in a car, and nabbed him when he was stuck in a traffic jam in Jalan Ampang. The team found a Turkish passport, which he had been using here, and a Japanese passport that bore particulars of a woman, believed to be his client.

Police also found two foreign passports, believed to be fake, at the condominium where he was residing.

Both Seyed Ramin and his wife are being remanded for 14 days to facilitate investigations.

Fuzi said Seyed Ramin was arrested in Pattaya, Thailand, in June last year for his alleged involvement in selling counterfeit passports to human trafficking syndicates, terrorist organisations and international drug rings.

He said information gathered also showed that he was the suspected leader of Southeast Asia's largest syndicate in trafficking Iranians.

The syndicate is also suspected to be responsible for trafficking in thousands of people from different countries through the Middle East, Europe, Australia and Canada.

"Before he was arrested in June last year, his syndicate had been allegedly operating in Thailand for five years. He is believed to have provided more than 3,000 counterfeit travel and identification documents of many countries, raking in profits of more than RM9 million.

"When he was nabbed by Thai authorities, a number of foreign passports and instruments used to make them were also seized from his house. Reports by Thai media agencies also said that Seyed Ramin was suspected to be responsible for providing documents to terrorists who set off in Phra Khanong on Feb 14 last year," Fuzi said.

Sources said Seyed Ramin, after his arrest, managed to escape and fled to Malaysia using a fake Turkish passport. He then allegedly continued to run the syndicate from here.

It was learnt that a Thailand court issued a warrant for Seyed Ramin's arrest following his escape.

"Police believe that he had been running the syndicate's operations here with the aid of its network here, with syndicate members operating in other countries.

"He was sneaky and elusive, exploiting loopholes in the system and covering his money trail well."

A source said one of Seyed Ramin's alleged syndicate members, an Iranian known as Alex, who operated from Thailand, was also found to be connected to Muhamad Butt, the leader of another passport counterfeiting syndicate.

Muhamad was nabbed in Thailand in 2009 for providing documents to terrorists from Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Lashkar-e-Toiba and also al-Qaeda-linked organisations.

The source said Seyed Ramin, in his past operations in Thailand, was believed to have sold a fake passport for between RM3,000 and RM4,000 each. The price could reach RM10,000 if a visa was also needed.