Thai­land’s ge­nius pass­port forger locked up

He built a crim­i­nal em­pire that helped thou­sands slip into coun­tries around the world, but a five-year probe in Bangkok fi­nally nabbed ‘The Doc­tor’

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

FOR a few thou­sand dol­lars “The Doc­tor” opened doors to the world, sup­ply­ing pris­tine fake pass­ports to gang­sters and rebels, refugees and mi­grant work­ers – all from an unas­sum­ing, scruffy house in the Bangkok sub­urbs.

But this Ira­nian mas­ter forger now lan­guishes in a Thai jail af­ter a rare slip un­spooled a crim­i­nal en­ter­prise that helped thou­sands of peo­ple to si­dle into Europe and be­yond.

Last week Thai po­lice said they had fi­nally dis­man­tled his net­work fol­low­ing a five-year probe, deal­ing a ham­mer blow to a gang that sup­plied “Triple A” qual­ity forg­eries to global traf­fick­ing syn­di­cates.

Nine men have been ar­rested, re­turn­ing the spot­light to Thai­land’s key role as a global hub for fake pass­ports, a shad­owy in­dus­try dom­i­nated by highly skilled Ira­ni­ans and Pak­ista­nis serv­ing cus­tomers from South Asia, the Mid­dle East and fur­ther afield.

For years de­tec­tives had hunted The Doc­tor, a name revered among Bangkok’s crim­i­nal un­der­world for pro­duc­ing the most so­phis­ti­cated forged travel documents on the mar­ket for just US$2000-3000.

But Hamid Reza Ja­fary, 48, evaded ar­rest, co­cooned from the law by a net­work of five trusted Pak­istani lieu­tenants and a low-key life­style that be­lied the for­tune spun from his unique skill.

His luck ran out ear­lier this year when military in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers traced a call by the hy­per-vig­i­lant forger to a pizza com­pany.

Po­lice swiftly raided an unas­sum­ing ad­dress in the Bangkok sub­urbs where they found The Doc­tor – a soubri­quet drawn from his past as a nurse in Iran.

Also there, hid­den in a se­cret com­part­ment, were 173 pass­ports from France, Is­rael, New Zealand, Iran and Syria and a cache of elec­tronic chips, moulds for visa stamps, rib­bons, inks and spe­cial­ist print­ing equip­ment.

The book­ish, bald­ing Ja­fary quickly con­fessed to his crime and ex­plained how made-to-order pass­ports were sent via DHL or FedEx to over­seas clients, in­clud­ing Syr­ian refugees try­ing to en­ter Europe.

But he re­fused to serve up his ac­com­plices or re­veal where the money went.

“He told me, ‘It’s a game ... Po­lice chase the bad guys, the bad guys run. But this is game over,’” Po­lice Colonel Vo­ra­vat Amorn­vi­rat, one of Thai­land’s top im­mi­gra­tion de­tec­tives, told AFP.

Ja­fary was jailed in May for 23 years, but his jail time will be halved due to a guilty plea.

The Syr­ian mi­grant cri­sis has brought a del­uge of work for Thai­land’s forg­ers.

Au­thor­i­ties say Ja­fary’s gang pro­vided be­spoke travel documents for traf­fick­ing syn­di­cates.

Over the years they had also served fugi­tive crim­i­nals and even wanted rebels, such as Tamil Tiger cadres es­cap­ing Sri Lanka. But pun­ters never met The Doc­tor. “It was like a com­pany ... They had bro­kers and cus­tomer ser­vice peo­ple. The Doc­tor was at the top – but he was very lowkey. He hid him­self very well in the coun­try,” im­mi­gra­tion po­lice com­man­der Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Nathathorn Prousoon­torn told AFP.

The colour­ful ca­bal of crooks ar­rested from his group were key fa­cil­i­ta­tors for Bangkok’s sprawl­ing un­der­world.

They in­clude a pony-tailed Pak­istani crafts­man called Ma­ham­mad Ramzan – known by the alias “Jonny Painter” for his side­line as a Bangkok street por­trait artist.

His com­pa­triot Ab­dul­lah Ghani Bhori, in his late 50s, was pa­raded in front of the me­dia last week, along­side more than 250 fake Span­ish pass­ports and chem­i­cals, visa stamps and lam­i­nated sheets for pass­ports.

Of­fi­cers said he had changed his iden­tity so many times over the years that he is now only re­ally known by the nick­name “Babu”.

“I learned this skill in Thai­land 10 years ago,” the diminu­tive and frail Babu told AFP, be­fore be­ing led away. “Now it is fin­ished for me.”

The links to Pak­istan and the Mid­dle East have caught the at­ten­tion of for­eign agen­cies fear­ing high-end pass­port forg­eries will fall into the hands of Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists.

One of Ja­fary’s group is set for ex­tra­di­tion to France, where a French em­bassy se­cu­rity ex­pert in Bangkok said he is wanted for links to un­spec­i­fied “ter­ror­ist groups”.

Tran­sient, vast and per­mis­sive, Bangkok has for long pro­vided sanc­tu­ary for peo­ple want­ing to dis­ap­pear or re-in­vent.

Thai­land wel­comes visa-free travel to many coun­tries and is South­east Asia’s best con­nected trans­port hub, shar­ing long, un­govern­able bor­ders with Myan­mar, Laos and Cam­bo­dia.

That draws transna­tional crim­i­nals mov­ing ev­ery­thing from peo­ple and rare wildlife to drugs, weapons and gems.

In 2014, two Euro­pean pass­ports stolen in the king­dom were used by Ira­ni­ans who boarded Malaysia Air­lines flight MH370, which dis­ap­peared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Four years ear­lier, two Pak­ista­nis and a Thai wo­man were ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of mak­ing false pass­ports for al-Qaeda-linked groups, in­clud­ing those tied to the 2008 at­tacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bomb­ing in 2004.

Po­lice say The Doc­tor’s down­fall has winded some crim­i­nal net­works, but only tem­po­rar­ily whilst gap­ing holes re­main in the de­tec­tion sys­tem.

Thai­land does not check pass­ports against In­ter­pol’s stolen or lost pass­port database which reg­is­ters tens of mil­lions of documents.

If it was, “we would know im­me­di­ately” when a stolen doc­u­ment was pre­sented at a Thai bor­der, Ma­jor Gen­eral Apichart Suri­boonya, head of Thai In­ter­pol told AFP.

Af­ter the MH370 dis­cov­ery Apichart rec­om­mended the coun­try fork out the 900,000 baht ($25,000) to ac­cess the database.

“It was worth it ... but we didn’t do it,” he added. –

Pho­tos: AFP

Forged Span­ish pass­ports are dis­played at the Im­mi­gra­tion De­ten­tion Cen­tre in Bangkok.

Ab­dul­lah Ghani Bhori (R), a Pak­istani co­hort of Ira­nian pass­port forger “The Doc­tor” Hamid Reza Ja­fary (not pic­tured), sits on a chair sur­rounded by fake pass­ports and forgery equip­ment.

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