BANGKOK – The Foreign Affairs Ministry has found another 500 visa stamps missing, this time from its consulate-general office in Savannakhet, Laos.
Deputy permanent secretary of the ministry Nutthavudh Photisaro said the Immigration Bureau earlier found two visa stamps illegally issued by the consulate-general office in Savannakhet.
A subsequent examination of visa stamps earmarked for this consulate back to 2008 revealed that a total of 500 stickers were missing, including the two detected by the Immigration Bureau.
The ministry had informed the Immigration Bureau office at Suvarnabhumi Airport to cancel visa numbers A8486001 to A8486500.
He said more investigation is needed into whether local employees or ministry officials are responsible for the disappearance. The initial assumption is that local officials are to blame, he added.
The report of visa stickers missing from the consulate in Laos follows the admission last Wednesday that 300 visa stamps were missing from Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and many had been used to enter or leave Thailand.
Mean while an Airline has offered to pay for lost visas..
Deputy permanent secretary for foreign affairs Nutthavudh Photisaro said the Thai envoy to The Hague, Virachai Plasai, reported that the loss of the visa stickers resulted from a change in commercial flights from a European country via Amsterdam to The Hague as there were no direct flights by Thai Airways (THAI) from Bangkok to The Hague.
Mr Nutthavudh said the airline had promised to pay the Foreign Ministry for the 2,000 lost visa stickers, worth a total of about 26,000 baht.
The loss of the stickers was announced by Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul on Monday.
Mr Nutthavudh on Tuesday met officials and asked Thai embassies and consulate-generals worldwide to look into any malpractice in visa issuance.
He said that between January and June this year, about 2.4 million visas were issued, while 3.4 million visas were issued during the same period last year.
Regarding the 300 visa stickers lost recently from the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Nutthavudh said an initial probe found some embassy staff had failed to keep the stickers locked in a safe. Local staff had then stolen the stickers and sold them to document forgery gangs, he said.
The thefts occurred between September last year and July this year.
The investigation also found someone had entered incorrect information into the embassy’s computer system to cover up the thefts, he said.
Signatures had also been forged on the stolen stickers and they had been stamped with a forged garuda seal (the Thai official seal), Mr Nutthavudh said.
The theft of the visa stickers was revealed when immigration officers in Mukdahan province found irregularities in a Cameroonian’s passport on July 20.
The ministry says it has since nullified all of the stolen visas.
The initial police investigation suggests document forgery gangs were catering to clients from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. The Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur had recently taken a hard line on approving visas requests by applicants from these regions.
The Foreign Ministry plans to launch a new e-visa system to replace the current paper stickers to prevent future thefts.
Mr Nutthavudh said starting in October next year, Thai visas will come in electronic form and will contain a photo of the applicant. Meanwhile, a Guinean man, Sylla Mohamed, was arrested yesterday in Roi Et’s Muang district for entering Thailand on a visa stolen from the Kuala Lumpur embassy.
The ministry expects to launch its electronic visa system in October 2014, on which an image of each applicant will be shown, to help reduce illegal use of Thai visas.