Thai officials on Friday said they had arrested a Pakistani man who allegedly counterfeited passports for customers mainly from Middle East countries, including some criminals and others possibly linked to a terrorist organization.
Mohammad Iqbal, 52, was arrested Sunday in suburban Bangkok and charged with forgery, Immigration Police Commander Lt. Gen. Suttipong Vongpint told reporters.
Police said Iqbal had three fake Singaporean passports and an Indian passport, fake entry-visa stickers for Canada, France, Italy and Spain, a laptop as well as laminates to produce the forged documents. Immigration police charged him with passport forgery, possessing fake passports for sale and making counterfeit visas to overseas countries, and detained him for additional questioning.
Earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters that Iqbal may be linked to the terror group Islamic State (IS).
“The suspect counterfeited passports for IS members preparing to have them travel from the Middle East to Thailand,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse, adding that the efforts were unsuccessful. Prawit also said investigators had not determined if Iqbal was linked to IS.
On Friday, Maj. Gen. Ittipol Ittisarnronnachai, deputy commander of Immigration Bureau police, said Iqbal had sold passports to customers outside of Thailand.
“Major customers are from the Middle East. I would not specify their citizenship and do not prematurely conclude they are involved with terrorist groups,” Ittipol told BenarNews. “It is a national security concern.”
Beginning in 2015, police have interrogated suspects and arrested members of a passport forgery network linked to Iqbal. Iqbal is believed to have based his operation in Thailand for more than a decade and was a leading producer and trader of fake passports, according to Ittipol.
“We found he had Singaporean passports. It might be because Singaporean passports allow people to enter to many countries easily,” Suttipong said. “Mostly, he produced French and Italian passports because Middle East customers has similar facial features and it’s easy to help these people slip into Europe illegally.”
Ittipol described two types of fake passports.
The first is a genuine one that is expired, so the person who has it illegally would request that fake pages be added. The cost to produce in Thailand is minimal, but the passport could be sold for more than 100,000 baht (U.S. $3,138) to a European customer.
The second type is a total forgery that can sell for 18,000 to 20,000 baht ($564 to $627).