PETALING JAYA: Investigations have begun into a “passport ring” as details emerged of bookings made in Thailand with stolen European passports for the vanished Malaysia Airlines flight.
Two European names – Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy – were listed on the passenger manifest of the flight MH370, but neither man boarded the plane, officials said.
Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years.
A senior Thai police official said authorities were probing a passport racket on the resort island of Phuket, where Maraldi’s passport was stolen.
“A police team combined with local police and immigration are working to track down a passport ring,” southern police commander Panya Mamen told AFP.
Malaysia has also launched a terror probe investigating the suspect passengers and the United States has sent in the FBI to assist.
Immigration Department director-general Datuk Aloyah Mamat will head the probe into how two men used the stolen passports to board the missing MH370.
“We want to find out how these two impostors passed through Immigration and boarded the plane,” said Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
However, he said it was possible for stolen passports to slip through, especially if they did not have hi-tech features.
“Unlike the Malaysian passport, which has a chip, biometric and barcode features, passports issued by some countries are not as sophisticated,” he added.
He said the department would only be informed of stolen or lost travel documents if the country had a transborder agreement with Malaysia. Bukit Aman is also focused on identifying the two men.
According to police sources, cases of stolen passports are common in Thailand.
According to several websites, the flight tickets under Maraldi’s name was for the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route on MH370/CZ748 (code sharing with Malaysia Airlines and China Southern Airlines), the Beijing-Amsterdam route on CZ767 and onward to Copenhagen on CZ7737.
As for “Kozel”, he was supposed to travel on the same flights to Amsterdam and then to Frankfurt on CZ7689.
It has been speculated that the impostors might know each other as the tickets were bought together and the ticket numbers were in sequence, indicating that they were issued together.
Meanwhile, Interpol has expressed regret that few member countries systematically search its database to determine whether a passenger is using a stolen or lost travel document to board a plane.
“If Malaysia Airlines and all airlines worldwide were able to check the passport details of prospective passengers against our database, then we would not have to speculate whether stolen passports were used by terrorists to board MH370,” said its secretary-general Ronald Noble in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.