BANGKOK: Malaysian passports are highly sought-after travel documents by fake passport syndicates, according to the Thai Immigration Bureau.
Its commissioner Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn Prousoonthorn said Malaysian passport holders enjoyed benefits and privileges, particularly visa exemptions.
He said this makes the country's passport highly attractive among fake passport users.
"As we know, Malaysians do not need to apply for visas when travelling to several countries including Thailand, as they get visa exemption.
"Because of this, the Malaysian passport is a target among the forged passport syndicates (operating in Thailand), especially for their clients from certain countries," he told Bernama in an interview here.
Due to the "attractiveness" of the Malaysian passport, it is no surprise that the passport is in "hot demand", particularly among citizens of South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China, he said.
Nathathorn said the facial and physical similarities shared between Malaysians and citizens of South Asian countries and China added to the popularity of the Malaysian passport with fake passport users from these countries.
"They could easily pass off as Malaysians," he said.
Two recent incidents at the Chiangmai International Airport and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport involving a Sri Lankan man and a Chinese man who were arrested with fake Malaysian passports proved the alarming trend, especially at a time when countries across the world are grappling with the growing threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group.
The first incident occurred on May 14 at the Chiangmai International Airport when a 22-year-old Sri Lankan man was arrested by Thai Immigration officers with a fake Malaysian passport before he could board an aircraft to Hong Kong and to Zurich later.
Subsequent investigations conducted by the Thai Immigration officers showed that his "passport" originally belonged to a Malaysian woman which had been listed as lost.
The second incident happened at Thailand's main gateway, the Suvarnabhumi International Airport on May 25 when Thai Immigration officers apprehended a Chinese man with a forged Malaysian passport during a routine check.
Further investigations showed the man who had entered Thailand via the border crossing at Mae Sai, northern Thailand, three years ago admitted he had paid US$6,000 to purchase the fake Malaysian passport via the Internet.
The man was nabbed before he could board a flight to Tokyo.
According to the Thai Immigration Bureau, both incidents involved Malaysian passports which were listed as lost earlier, but reused and stamped with new identities to disguise the particulars of the original owners.
A security source told Bernama that Thai authorities arrested more than 60 people of different nationalities last year for carrying fake Malaysian passports en route to several countries in the European Union (EU).
Malaysian passport holders, he said, were not required to obtain visas before entering EU countries, adding that similiar to what happened at the Chiangmai and Suvarnabhumi airports, the duo too carried Malaysian passports which had been listed as lost but reused with new identities.
The source who declined to reveal his identity due to the sensitivities of the information he was sharing, also disclosed that the "clients" were willing to fork out a huge amount of money to get hold of a fake Malaysian passport.
"Normally, they pay more than RM20,000 to buy a fake Malaysian passport but (the price) also depended on which syndicate," he said.
As part of efforts to stem the usage of fake Malaysian passports, Thai Immigration officers, he said, had been conducting stricter checks on Malaysian passport holders, including questioning them about basic Bahasa Malaysia and their general knowledge of the country.
In February this year, Thai authorities crippled a major international fake passport syndicate with the arrest of an Iranian, Hamid Reza Jafari, 48, popularly known as "The Doctor", and seized more than 173 fake international passports.
The syndicate headed by "The Doctor", according to the Thai Immigration Bureau, supplied various international passports to clients who wanted to go to Australia and countries in Europe. - Bernama