Probe into stolen passports used by pair on missing jet
March 11, 2014 00:00
By The Nation
Tickets for "fake" passengers issued in pattaya; theft of passports in phuket recounted
Thai police are looking into the two incidents, when passports were allegedly stolen – later used by two passengers on the Malaysian Airlines flight that has been missing since Saturday – and the purchase of their air tickets in Pattaya.
In Phuket, police are studying a statement from the owner of a motorcycle rental shop in relation to an Italian man whose passport that went missing in July last year. In Pattaya, police are also probing an online booking made with a local travel agency, with the tickets being bought with Thai baht.
Police quoted Benjawan Narkmornkha, owner of the BN Massage parlour, which doubles as a motorcycle rental in Kathu district in Phuket, as saying that a relative told her a foreign man, claiming to be a customer, asked to borrow “his” passport so he could withdraw money from a bank. He apparently left a Russian passport – allegedly that of his girlfriend – behind as a guarantee.
The person behind the counter then held out several passports left behind by customers and asked the man to choose the one belonging to him. The man picked the one issued to Italian national Luigi Maraldi, but has not been seen since, Benjawan told police.
She said that when Maraldi came back to reclaim his passport and learned it was missing, he filed a complaint with Kathu police on July 25, 2013. Later, it was learned that the passport belonging to the unidentified Russian woman had also been reported missing.
Maraldi returned to Phuket on March 1 and is scheduled to fly out on Saturday. His statements to Kathu police and immigration police were consistent with what Benjawan said.
Kathu police said it was not immediately known which police station Austrian Christian Kozel reported the loss of his passport to. A passenger on the missing Malaysian plane is allegedly also using Kozel’s identity.
Pol Lt-Colonel Khundej na Nongkhai said the Austrian Consulate in Phuket had received Kozel’s request, with a police complaint attached as an evidence, for a temporary passport before he flew out of Thailand recently from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
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 Pattana-thabut 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.
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 Canadians the smallest at 96.