SONGKLA – Special investigators from the Foreign Ministry and the police are questioning members of the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur over the disappearance of 300 visa labels.
Information Department deputy chief Jakkrit Sriwali Thursday described the missing labels as an ‘‘irregularity’’ caused by Malaysian staff employed at the embassy.
Mr Jakkrit said tough legal action would be taken against those responsible, including Thai nationals.
The 300 visa slips were found missing from the embassy after border police officers arrested a Nigerian national who was on the immigration watch list.
The arrest of Sunday Edwin Naemeka, 35, which exposed the scandal, took place at Songkhla Immigration Office in Sadao district on the Thai-Malaysian border on Wednesday morning.
Mr Jakkrit said officials had known about the disappearance of the slips for some time, but the case had not been made public because the Foreign Ministry did not want those holding the illegally obtained visas to know they were being hunted.
Two committees have been set up to investigate the incident, one by the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the other by the Foreign Ministry.
The ministry’s committee went to Kuala Lumpur last month to conduct its probe, Mr Jakkrit said, adding that they found that those responsible for the crime had tried to cover their tracks.
The Thai suspects involved are believed to be outsiders without links to immigration authorities, he added.
There are five Malaysian employees in the consular section of the embassy.
Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok Thursday confirmed the loss of the visa labels. He said a Cameroonian and a Guinean were caught using two lost visa labels trying to enter Thailand from Laos through Mukdahan province on July 20 and 21 respectively.
Thai authorities knew something was amiss because the foreigners had not entered Malaysia but their stamps were marked by the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
A number of other foreigners were arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport trying to use the lost visa labels. They were charged with using fake documents to enter the country and detained at the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok.
Pol Gen Pracha said the authorities do not know if the visa scam is linked to terrorism.
The Foreign Ministry has nullified the lost visa labels, he said, and added that he hopes the ministry will find the culprits. It will be important to find out why the scam took place at the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur, he said.
Immigration Bureau commissioner Pol Lt Gen Pharnu Kerdlarpphon said 103 foreigners used the visas to enter the country, and 59 of them have since left Thailand.
Immigration police in Songkhla’s Sadao district Thursday apprehended Kimba Yaou, a 35-year-old citizen of Niger, with a lost visa slip.
The Nigerois said he was a football player and he had paid US$1,000 (about 30,000 baht) to a broker in Kuala Lumpur to get a visa for him. He wanted to enter Thailand to visit his pregnant Thai wife.
Mean while, Police in Bangkok and Nong Khai yesterday arrested three more suspects who allegedly used the stolen visa labels to enter Thailand.
Pol Col Archayon Kraithong, deputy commander of the Tourist Police Division, said police arrested a Nigerian tourist identified as Nnamdi Igbolekwe, 23, with stolen visa label no. A 5801948 at Soi Nana.
Police say Mr Igbolekwe told them he never entered Malaysia, but instead hired a Nigerian agent to forge a travel document for 120,000 baht in May and entered Thailand last month.
Pol Col Archayon said 259 foreigners have entered the country using the stolen visa labels, and 55 of those remain in Thailand. Police are still searching for the remaining 43 foreigners, whose names have been sent to security units nationwide. Police have said they will prioritise capturing those involved in drugs and transnational crime.
Nong Khai police on Friday arrested a Burundian businessman, Barut Wanayo, 42, and a Ghanaian football player, Philemon Sottie, 23, both caught with the stolen visa labels.
Mr Wanayo denied the accusation, saying that he was a garment exporter from Bangkok to Africa and has lived in Thailand for four years with legal documentation.
He said that in November, however, he accepted an Indian agent’s offer to obtain a visa for him for 10,000 baht.
He said he obtained the visa at the Thai embassy in Vientiane, Laos before going back to Thailand via the Nong Khai border checkpoint.
Mr Sottie said he has lived in Thailand for more than two years to play football for the Surin FC team, and that he received a legal visa for residing in the country from the Thai consulate-general in Laos’ Savannakhet province.
Pol Lt Col Pariwat Satjaphan, an inspector for the Nong Khai immigration police, said that Mr Wanayo’s visa belonged to the group of lost visa labels from the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
He added that Mr Sottie’s visa was unusual, because it did not include the capital ‘A’ in front of the visa number and the signature of the Thai consulate-general.
Immigration police are looking for a Thai woman identified only as Mama as she is suspecting of selling a lost visa label to the Cameroonian. Detectives said the woman was a major visa broker in Thailand.
Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the loss of the visa labels should not pose any security problems in Thailand.