Inside the Passport Workshop
Mar. 1, 2016
Police in Thailand last month unraveled a highly sophisticated operation churning out fake passports of more than 30 countries.
Among the suspects detained was Hamid Reza Jafary, an Iranian man who's nicknamed "the Doctor."
His techniques are reputedly so advanced that authorities worldwide describe his replica travel documents as "triple-A grade." Even immigration officials are said to be fooled by them.
Jafary was arrested along with five others. He is thought to have been the mastermind of the counterfeiting network.
He operated in a quiet residential area outside Bangkok. A neighbor who looks after the house where Jafary worked was present during the police investigation.
"I always thought he was a computer repairman," the neighbor says. "I asked him where he was from when I was cleaning up the garden, but he would never say."
More than 20 investigators took part in the raid. Jafary and the other members of the group were pretending to be computer-repair technicians. That work happened on the first floor, while Jafary produced fake passports in a room upstairs.
Police confiscated printers and other equipment. Many ink cartridges and other items were left behind.
Jafary himself is thought to have used 6 fake passports of 4 countries, including Brazil and New Zealand. He has been living in Thailand for 25 years under the alias Alex.
An official at the Thai Immigration Bureau's screening center for fake passports says these highly sophisticated forgeries were traded globally.
"The Doctor's techniques were so advanced that even immigration officials found the forgeries hard to identify," says Lt. Col. Supachart Bandhumani. "The criminal group will probably shrink now that the Doctor has been arrested."
Thai police discovered 173 fake passports of more than 30 countries during the raid. They have also confirmed that many of Jafary's passports ended up in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.
"The question is who obtained the fake passports, and whether those people are a threat to public safety," says Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Royal Thai Police Deputy Commissioner General. "If they are, they must be stopped at all costs."
Will the crackdown in Thailand help to unravel more international passport forgery syndicates? Observers are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
NHK World's Paparorn Promlerd joined anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio from Bangkok.
Beppu: So how far has the investigation has progressed?
Promlerd: Very few people were able to get in contact with "The Doctor" directly, and the passports are thought to have ended up in the hands of a human trafficking network. The network is divided into two sections, one that smuggles people from China and Laos, and another from India and the Middle East. The Thai police are focusing their efforts on investigating Jafary's links to the latter group.
The passports Jafary forged were each sold for $1,800 or higher. That’s more than double the price of fake passports sold on the streets. It’s not just people who want to enter another country illegally who need these passports. It’s very likely that they ended up in the hands of criminal groups and terrorists, too. Investigators suspect fake passports forged in Thailand were used by people linked to terrorist incidents, including the 2004 bombing in Madrid and the 2008 attack in Mumbai.
Shibuya: Are the authorities acting fast enough to deal with the forgeries?
Promlerd: The Thai government is focusing its efforts on finding the fake passports at every point of entry into the country. Due to the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community, the number of people traveling between Southeast Asian countries is expected to increase. In the spring, the government will open the ASEAN Center for Targeting Forged Passports in Bangkok. It plans to accept trainees from neighboring countries.
And the technology used to counter forgeries is improving. Many countries embed IC (integrated circuit) chips in their passports, making them much more difficult to forge. But that's not a perfect solution. Some criminals use the real passport of someone they resemble, and it's also possible to take a page with an IC chip in it and transfer it into another passport. So it's difficult to completely eradicate this kind of problem.