PATTAYA – Thai authorities on Tuesday revealed that the missing Malaysian Airlines’ Beijing-bound tickets of two imposters traveling with passports stolen in Thailand were booked by an Iranian and paid by a Thai woman.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference Tuesday that investigators had determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian planning to enter Germany to seek asylum. A second passenger also travelling with a stolen passport has not been identified. Both bought their tickets in Thailand and entered Malaysia together, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Immigration Bureau commander Pol Lt Gen Panu Kerdlarppol disclosed more details following reports that the Italian and Austrian foreign ministries announced that the names of their two national matched the MH 370 flight manifest but the two men – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – did not board the flight but their passports were stolen while they were in Thailand.
Gen Panu said the tickets were sold by a tour agent in the seaside resort of Pattaya via email contact with an Iranian named Ali on March 1 for an Italian passport for the route Kuala Lumpur – Doha – Copenhagen. The second booking was for an Austrian passport for the route Kula Lumpur – Abu Dhabi – Frankfurt.
The booking however was changed on March 6 for Kuala Lumpur – Beijing – Amsterdam.
The Thai wife of another Iranian called Asem paid Bt51,000 for the tickets, in Pattaya.
Gen Panu said Thai police have searched Mr Asem’s Pattaya home as intelligence reports suggested that they linked with a forged passport syndicate for Middle East and South Asian people for travelling to third countries.
He said there is no evidence proving a link to terrorism, but they chose Thailand as their operations base as the kingdom is a tourist hub with a large number of passports being stolen.
As for Mr Ali, Gen Panu said, the suspect is an operational member of the syndicate and has entered Thailand 19 times. He left Thailand Dec 1 last year. Police found clear evidence showing his forged passport orders with his clients, which is considered as a treat to Thailand’s security.
The immigration bureau chief said Mr Asem, an accomplice, has lived in Thailand for 17 years with a tourist visa. He entered Thailand last July via the Cambodian border.
Gen Panu said the immigration bureau is conducting a further investigation to bring the culprits for legal prosecution.