- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

Thailand authorities have broken up a criminal ring that produced counterfeit passports and other travel documents, including hundreds of fake U.S. passports sold on the black market.

Thailand police Lt. Col. Sophon Sarapat told reporters in Bangkok that one member of the criminal ring, Mohamad Kairm, was arrested and found with large numbers of fraudulent U.S. and European passports.

A raid on a 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, he stated.

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

State Department and Department of Homeland Security officials had no immediate comment.

Police Major-General Chaktip Chaichinda told Reuters that he “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 passports 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.

It was unclear if the U.S. passports were copied version of the new electronic passport. Covers for the new passport are made in a factory in Ayutthaya, Thailand, north of Bangkok, where they are fitted with a wire Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, antenna.

Security specialists and members of Congress have raised questions about the security of the e-passports because of use of foreign components and assempbly in Thailand, according to a recent investigation by The Washington Times.

The Government Printing Office, the congressional agency in charge of producing new passports, has said that the Thai passport production facility is secure.

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

Congressional investigators have criticized GPO for using European-made 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 this month, 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 prevent theft or counterfeiting.

Thailand is a major center of counterfeit documents and retail goods.

The Bangkok ring was broken up after arrests in Paris on April 22 that was part of an international network of passport-forgers operating out of Paris.

That operation involved the printing and sale of fake British passports and included about 20 people, most of them from Bangladesh and Pakistan who were taken into custody.

French border police uncovered two passport-manufacturing units that were part of the counterfeit ring producing high-quality fakes, including one that was based in a van that traveled around the Paris area.

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