Ministry boosts safeguards for visa stickers

The Foreign Ministry has stepped up safeguards for the handling of visa stickers following reports over the weekend that another 2,000 of them were lost during their delivery to the Thai embassy in the Netherlands.

Immigration police display seized 43 fake passports and 75 visa stickers following the arrest of Paiboon Sriwatchararoj in Bangkok. The suspect allegedly sold fake passports for 2,000 baht and fake visa stickers for 1,000 baht. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Sihasak Phuangketkeow, ministry permanent secretary, reported the loss of the visa stickers while they were being delivered by diplomatic bag to the embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Mr Surapong said the ministry had cancelled the documents and is investigating.

Mr Surapong believes an organised crime racket is behind the sticker thefts.

No evidence had surfaced suggesting any official from his ministry is involved, he insisted,

"I have discussed a new form of issuing visas. Computers may be used to print visa stickers at the destinations concerned and they may also show the photographs of visa applicants," Mr Surapong said.

Mr Sihasak said the ministry has asked Thai embassies and consulate-generals abroad to investigate any malpractice with visa issuance.

Deputy permanent secretary Nuttavudh Photisaro said the batch of visa stickers was sent to the Netherlands this month on a Thai Airways International flight via Frankfurt. Another flight was to carry them on to the Netherlands. The stickers were lost during the second flight.

Pol Maj Gen Krisada Surachetpong, commander of Immigration Division I, said immigration police nationwide have been told to look for people using the lost stickers. Pol Col Chartchai Iamsaeng, deputy investigative commander of the Immigration Bureau, said 2,000 Thai passports were lost during their delivery from Thailand to the Thai embassy in The Hague this month.

The serial numbers of the passports have now been cancelled.

Regarding the 300 visa stickers lost recently from the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Pol Col Chartchai said the Immigration Bureau has revoked the stay in Thailand of 55 people holding those stickers and arrested 14 of them. Some people holding fake visas were arrested while they were leaving Thailand through Mukdahan province last month, a department source said.

They said they had entered the country from Malaysia.

Immigration police believe some ministry officials may be involved.

"The ministry's mistakes increase the workload of immigration checkpoints nationwide," the source said.

Mr Sihasak said the ministry was meting out disciplinary punishments against the local staff of the Thai embassy.

"We are not complacent or letting anyone involved go unpunished. A probe committee has already been set up to investigate," he said.

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Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham & Achara Ashayagachat