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Scary glaring error over passports in wake of MAS crash

March 11, 2014 Aviation, Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

egtmedia59As investigators hone in on two passengers who boarded the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 using stolen passports, disturbing reports have arisen that airports in many countries just don’t bother to check whether passports have been stolen.

The two passengers under suspicion (who are almost certainly now dead, along with everyone else on the flight) were travelling on passports that had been stolen from Luigi Maraldi (an Italian) and Christian Kozel (an Austrian). Maraldi and Kozel were on separate visits to Thailand when their passports were stolen. Both thefts happened within the past two years.FIA-250x250

Speculation is mounting that whoever flew using Maraldi and Kozel’s stolen passports may have been involved in a plot to bring the MAS plane down. Two people travelling on the same flight using stolen passports is unusual.

Despite the much-vaunted claims of biometric facial recognition and tamper-proof passports, it seems travel documents are easy to steal, reproduce and alter.

MAS has CCTV footage of the two bogus passengers checking in. According to Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the passengers who purported to be Maraldi and Kozel were both black, and probably of African appearance.

Initially, Malaysia’s Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the suspect duo were of Asian appearance. He criticised border officials for allowing them through security checkpoints.

“I am still perturbed. Can’t these immigration officials think? Italian and Austrian (passport holders) but with Asian faces?” Zahid said.

Today’s world is so mixed, however, that facial appearance is no longer a guide to where someone lives or what their name is – a fact underscored later when it emerged that, rather than having Asian features, both of the suspect passengers were black.

At a press conference yesterday reported by the Malaysian Chronicle and other media, Azharuddin confirmed that the two men “did not look Asian”.

The hyper-sensitivity about matters of race and racial appearance has become so acute that Azharuddin couldn’t bring himself to say bluntly that both passengers were black.

Instead, he phrased it this way. “Do you know a footballer (by the name of) Balotelli? He is an Italian, but you know how he looks like,” Azharuddin said when pressed to describe the appearance of the two men.

Mario Balotelli, a professional Italian footballer who plays for AC Milan, is Italian-born, but as both his parents were immigrants from Ghana in West Africa, he is of black African appearance.

When pressed further on whether the two passengers were black, Azharuddin replied: “Yes”.

Asked if he meant that the duo were Africans or were of African origin, Azharuddin declined to elaborate, the Malaysian Chronicle reported.

The exchange suggests that somebody travelling on a stolen passport can look utterly unlike the legitimate and original bearer of the passport, yet still use it to board a flight. Presumably the photos in the passports were switched.

A report in USA Today quoted Michael Greenberger, a former Clinton administration official and director of the University of Maryland Centre for Health and Homeland Security, saying “passports are a very weak link” in the world’s travel security system.

Greenberger said that despite concerns raised by the 9/11 Commission in its report in 2004, no effective way had been instituted to ensure that a person presenting a passport was the person to whom it had been issued.

Interpol, the international police service, holds data on more than 40 million travel documents, mostly passports, that have been reported stolen or missing. Yet, astonishingly, there is no requirement for countries to cross-check against this database and many just don’t bother.

Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said “only a handful of countries worldwide” took the steps necessary to prevent people boarding international flights with stolen passports.

The USA Today report quoted Interpol sources saying that no country checked the two passports used to board the MAS B777 bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, even though the passports had been reported stolen in Thailand.

Last year, roughly a billion passengers boarded planes without having their passports screened against the Interpol stolen passport database.

If the crash of flight MH370 was an act of terrorism, it carries the chilling inference that terrorists may have discovered a way to board a flight under false identities – and possibly to smuggle explosives or weaponry aboard without being detected. If so, their co-conspirators on the ground will know.

It has also been revealed that five passengers checked in for the flight but did not board the plane. In the usual manner, their baggage was removed before it departed. Police are trying to track them down.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. angelique says:

    The stolen passport story is not NEWS. We as a travel agency encountered fake passports 3 years ago. It was evident by their names and their photos that they were not who they said they were. We almost lost over $15000 when issuing Emirates tickets against a credit card (which had been given over a fax line, with copies of signature) that was no doubt stolen. The travel was for travel Accra to Dubai. We had a suspicion that things were not right about the passports, the photos and names just didn’t seem to match, but when calling the Australian Immigration Department and also the Passport department, they both would not talk to me, even though I knew they were stolen/fake passports. Their reply being we cannot discuss this due to disclosure of private information. Fortunately I cancelled the tickets but I know the scammer did contact other agents and no doubt got the result they wanted. Whether it was financial , or travel on a forged passport.
    I was amazed no one cared or would talk to me about my find.
    I had to get onto a detective in Perth, who confirmed the passports did NOT belong to those holding the passport. He could do nothing further.

    Hope the checks are made more thoroughly , when people are travelling , especially on aircraft!
    Everyone should be vigilant when dealing with photo ids.

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