Passport forgery suspects charged with hiding body

Passport forgery suspects charged with hiding body

Police lead away James Douglas Eger, one of the three foreigners, arrested following the raid on an alleged passport-forgery operation in Phra Khanong district of Bangkok on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Police lead away James Douglas Eger, one of the three foreigners, arrested following the raid on an alleged passport-forgery operation in Phra Khanong district of Bangkok on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Three foreigners belonging to a suspected passport forgery ring face multiple charges after police found drugs, guns and a dismembered body stashed in the freezer of a shophouse in Bangkok.

The Phra Khanong Districl Court on Saturday approved a police request to detain the trio for 12 days while the investigation continues. Suspects can be detained for a maximum of seven 12-day periods before formal charges must be filed.

Police said they needed more time to question witnesses and check criminal records and forensic results. The court denied bail at the request of police, who said the men were a flight risk. The suspects were then taken to Bangkok Remand Prison.

The three suspects have been identified as Aaron Thomas Gabel, 33, and James Douglas Eger, 66, both American nationals, and Peter Andrew Colter, 56, of Britain.

Police are still trying to identify the body of a foreign man found wrapped in plastic in a freezer during the raid in Sukhumvit Soi 56 in Phra Khanong district on Friday. The body had been cut into six pieces.

The search on Friday turned up six pistols, methamphetamine, marijuana, passports, a printer and chemicals. Police also also found passports featuring the suspects' pictures with different names.

A Tourist Police officer was also wounded in the operation after a suspect reached inside a safe for a 9mm gun and fired three shots. The officer was not seriously hurt and is recovering in Police General Hospital.

A US Embassy spokesman said he was following the case but could not comment due to privacy concerns.

"They are charged on five counts including attempting to kill an official on duty, resisting arrest, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, forging official documents and concealing a corpse," said Pol Col Chanin Wachirapaneekul, superintendent of the Phra Khanong station where the men were taken.

A Myanmar housekeeper and her husband, who were initially detained with the group, have not been charged with any crimes and are being treated as witnesses, said Pol Maj Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau.

Pol Col Chanin said that all five people rounded up on Friday denied any knowledge of the dismembered body in the freezer.

Pol Maj Gen Surachet Hakphan, commander of the Tourist Police Division, said the suspects were believed to be members of a major fake passport gang, with the Briton believed to be the gang leader. He said they had been in Thailand for about eight years and travelled in and out of the country frequently, using both real and fake passports.

Police are now tracing the suspects' mobile phone use. They have also searched two more houses linked to the suspects in the On Nut area but found nothing illegal, he added.

Thailand has long served as a base for foreign criminals and fugitives lured by porous borders, lax visa requirements and a reputation for corrupt law enforcement.

In February police arrested an Iranian known as "The Doctor" who crafted pristine passports from his home in Chachoengsao and sold the documents to thousands around the world -- including gangsters, rebels, refugees and migrant workers.

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