The Bangkok Post reports:

Police have arrested a man from Bangladesh who made hundreds of fake Western and Asian passports _ their largest counterfeit documents bust in five years.

A team from the Special Operations Police (SOP) raided the house of Mohammed Karim, 56, in Bang Kae district on Saturday.

They found a sophisticated passport-making operation and more than 1,000 finished and unfinished documents, fake visa seals and two computers in one of the largest operations of its kind ever, SOP chief Chaktip Chaichinda said yesterday.

The seized items included 577 fake passports, 680 illegal visa stamps and more than 1,600 counterfeit documents used to make fake US passports.

The Bangladeshi admitted to police that he and his partner, a Burmese man identified as Tin Oo, rented the house in Phetkasem 62 and turned it into a factory for fake passports.

They sold the passports, mostly US, French, Spanish, Belgian and Maltese, to a group of Thai and Burmese middlemen who then sold them to gangs engaged in prostitution, terrorism and smuggling, Pol Maj-Gen Chaktip said.

Customers were charged between 3,000 and 10,000 baht each for the passports.

His partner is still at large, but police say they hope to arrest him soon.

If convicted, he and his friend could face up to 20 years in jail.

”This guy is rich. He has a BMW. He said he made about 300,000 to 400,000 baht per month,” Pol Maj-Gen Chaktip said.

BP: I can say the following about the “forged” passport industry. Such passports can be divided into 3 categories:
1. A false passport. This is a real passport that has been issued to an imposter. Think of the movies where villains go combing cemeteries for tombstones. The advantage of this passport is that if suspicions arise at an immigration checkpoint, a check of the documents will indicate it is real document and has not been altered as the photo would match the records held by the issuing agency. These are premium passports and are very expensive particularly for a person of African, Asian, or Middle Eastern descent – normally, they will need the birth certificate of a person with a similar ethnic or racial background to pass i.e a person of Middle Eastern descent who speaks halting English who presents a passport in the name of Michael WHITE will raise all kinds of questions.

NOTE: Stolen blanks could fit into this category although they probably deserve a category of their own as they are not entered into the passport system so a check would show the numbers are not valid.

2. Forged passport. This is a real passport which has been altered. This could be the photo has been replaced in older style passports (called a photo substitution) or the entire entire front cover and inside biodata page, where the biographical date and photo is located, has been removed and replaced (like removing the cover and back page from a book and stitching. These are used at airports as there is a real number, but a document expert will detect alterations (such document experts exist at airports throughout Asia).* They are more helpful when the name of the original holder can easily be used by the holder of the passport (think the Michael WHITE example above vs a Middle Eastern person using an Italian passport in the name of Corrado SOPRANO). Moderately priced particularly if the name suggests an ethnic background and has not been reported “stolen”.

3. Counterfeit passport. This is a passport which is not real. It has been printed by a forger. Problems with these is that they rarely include many of the security features of modern passports. Issuing numbers do not correspond with dates. These can often be used in fraud cases like travellers cheques scams, but also by westerners who are involved in illegal activities and because of what they look like only a cursory glance is given to their travel documents. Depending on the quality and the quality can very greatly, these are the lowest-priced ones of the lot.

The passports seized will likely be mostly in (3), but there could be some in (2). Thailand is a world hub for forged and counterfeit travel documents. Penalties are increasing, but such little factories are numerous. People rarely use such passports for “good reasons”. Whether it is some other fraud, people or drug smuggling, or terrorism false/forged/counterfeit travel documents are usually involved. One could politely say that Thailand lags behind many of countries in stamping out the issue.

For more on false/forged/counterfeit travel documents, this slightly older NY Times article is excellent and you can see why the Belgian passports are used. This PBS documentary and connection with 9/11 is also relevant.

*It will normally be the airline and not the immigration staff who call on the document expert. The user of the passport will know which immigration line to use (i.e which officer has been paid off), but the airline can be fined by the arrival country for carrying passengers using forged or counterfeit travel documents so are vigilant at check-in and sometimes at the gate as well.