U.S. eyes ring in Thai­land that pro­duces forged pass­ports

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

U.S. gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity agen­cies are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a crim­i­nal ring in Thai­land that pro­duced coun­ter­feit pass­ports and other travel doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of fake U.S. pass­ports sold on the black mar­ket, Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment of­fi­cials said April 28.

“We are as­sist­ing the Thai gov­ern­ment on this,” said ICE spokes­woman Pat Reilly, who added that the qual­ity of the forged U.S. pass­ports was not yet known.

Hun­dreds of U.S. pass­ports re­cov­ered from the coun­ter­feit ring headed by a Bangladeshi na­tional — iden­ti­fied by Thai po­lice as Mo­hamad Karim — did not in­clude the new elec­tronic pass­port pro­duced by the Gov­ern­ment Print­ing Of­fice (GPO) through a con­trac­tor in Thai­land, Ms. Ri­ley said.

The Thai gov­ern­ment is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, she said.

Thai­land po­lice Lt. Col. Sophon Sara­gat told re­porters in Bangkok that Mr. Karim was ar­rested April 26 and large num­bers of fraud­u­lent U.S. and Euro­pean pass­ports were found at a res­i­dence.

The po­lice raid on the rented house in Bangkok un­cov­ered 90 le­git­i­mate pass­ports, 577 coun­ter­feit U.S. and Euro­pean pass­ports, 680 coun­ter­feit visas and 1,680 fake pass­port photo pages for U.S. pass­ports, Col. Sara­gat stated.

“Karim con­fessed and he was charged with con­spir­ing to make coun­ter­feit pass­ports for sale, and mak­ing fake visas,” Col. Sara­gat was quoted as say­ing af­ter the ar­rest.

Po­lice Maj. Gen. Chak­tip Chaichinda told Reuters news agency that Mr. Karim “ad­mit­ted that he made fake pass­ports.”

A Thai na­tional and Burmese na­tional also were linked to the coun­ter­feit ring but have not been ar­rested.

Thai po­lice de­scribed the pass­port coun­ter­feit­ing op­er­a­tion as “so­phis­ti­cated.” The pass­ports were of­fered for the Thai cur­rency equiv­a­lent of $95 to $315 each and net­ted Mr. Karim some $9,500 to $12,600 a month.

In ad­di­tion to U.S. coun­ter­feit pass­ports, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found French, Span­ish, Bel­gian and Mal­tese coun­ter­feit doc­u­ments that po­lice said were sold to a group of Thai and Burmese col­lab­o­ra­tors. The pass- ports were then sold to gangs linked to pros­ti­tu­tion, ter­ror­ism and smug­gling, Gen. Chak­tip said.

Other fake pass­ports in­cluded Malaysian, Sin­ga­pore and Ja­panese travel doc­u­ments.

The Burmese man was iden­ti­fied as Tin Oo, who rented the house and set up the fac­tory for fake pass­ports.

Se­cu­rity con­cerns about the man- ufac­ture of U.S. pass­port com­po­nents in Thai­land were raised by U.S. of­fi­cials and se­cu­rity ex­perts dur­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Pass­port cov­ers con­tain­ing elec­tronic se­cu­rity chips are made at a fac­tory in Ayut­thaya, Thai­land, north of Bangkok, where they are fit­ted with a wire ra­dio fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion an­tenna.

The GPO, the con­gres­sional agency in charge of pro­duc­ing new pass­ports, has said that the U.S. pass­port-pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Thai­land is se­cure.

The com­pany in Thai­land that makes the pass­port cov­ers, Smar­trac, was a tar­get of Chi­nese eco­nomic es­pi­onage in the past, ac­cord­ing to a court fil­ing in Nether­lands.

Con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors have crit­i­cized GPO for us­ing Euro­pean­made in­te­grated cir­cuits, which are in­tended as a se­cu­rity de­vice in the pass­port, and as­sem­bling the book­let cov­ers in Thai­land, be­cause of con­cerns that blank pass­ports could be stolen dur­ing tran­sit.

GPO spokes­men have said the pro­duc­tion process is se­cure and that the State De­part­ment has checked the se­cu­rity of the Thai­land Smar­trac plant.

Ear­lier in April, a group of House Repub­li­cans in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would re­quire the State De­part­ment to use U.S.-made com­po­nents for new elec­tronic pass­ports and to as­sem­ble the book­lets here, to help pre­vent theft or coun­ter­feit­ing.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Mo­hamad Karim, a Bangladeshi na­tional who is ac­cused of lead­ing a coun­ter­feit ring in Thai­land, was ar­rested April 26 in Bangkok in a raid in which po­lice un­cov­ered fraud­u­lent U.S. and Euro­pean pass­ports.

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