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[BANGKOK] Thai police rounded up six foreigners allegedly behind one of the country's biggest and best counterfeit passport operations, officers said Wednesday, in a country where a flourishing fake document industry has long fuelled traffickers and other criminal gangs.
Five years of investigation culminated in the arrest of alleged Iranian kingpin Hamid Reza Jafary, a 48-year-old man also known as "The Doctor" who had been crafting forgeries from his home in Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok, police said.
"He was wanted by security agencies in many countries, especially the EU and Japan," said immigration police commander Lieutenant General Nathathorn Prousoontorn.
Five other Pakistani "middle men" were also arrested in a Monday raid for assisting the forgery ring, which allegedly shipped passports to overseas clients for up to 80,000 baht (S$3,200).
Jafary's fake passports were the "best quality in the market", an immigration officer, who asked not to be named, told AFP, adding that most of his customers were from countries like Iran, Syria and Iraq.
Some of the nearly 200 travel documents found in a Monday raid on Jafary's home were completely forged, while others had been stolen from tourists and doctored, police said.
Thousands of passports are reported missing annually in Thailand, where forged documents of every variety can be easily purchased on the streets.
The flourishing market has helped establish Thailand as a hub for human traffickers and smugglers.
Two Uighur men awaiting trial for planting a deadly bomb in Bangkok last August have also been accused by police of running a crime group that helped illegal migrants obtain counterfeit documents.
The pair are currently being held in a military prison.
In 2010 Thai authorities participated in an international police sting that saw two Pakistanis and a Thai woman arrested in Thailand for providing fake passports to extremist groups behind global terror attacks.