Arrest order issued for Iranian suspected of supplying 2 stolen passports for MH370 passengers in Pattaya

Friday, 21 March 2014 From Issue Vol. XXII No. 12 By  Theerarak Suthathiwong

An Iranian who booked two tickets in Pattaya for countrymen using stolen passports to board an ill-fated Malaysian Airlines jetliner has been placed on Thailand’s criminal watch list.

Frequent Thai tourist Alireza Kolmohammadi, 39, who has been booking tickets with South Pattaya’s Grand Horizon travel agency for years, is accused of supplying undocumented aliens with stolen passports to help them travel illegally to third countries. Immigration police have orders to arrest him on sight at any border crossing or airport.

Alireza Kolmohammadi has been placed on Thailand’s criminal watch list for booking two tickets in Pattaya for countrymen using stolen passports to board an ill-fated Malaysian Airlines jetliner.Alireza Kolmohammadi has been placed on Thailand’s criminal watch list for booking two tickets in Pattaya for countrymen using stolen passports to board an ill-fated Malaysian Airlines jetliner.

Grand Horizon staffers said Kolmohammadi, 39, ordered tickets under the names of Italian national Luigi Maraldi and Austrian man Christian Kozel for seats on the MH370 flight that disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand March 8. Both men - still alive - had reported their passports stolen within the past two years. Maraldi, 27, is still living in Phuket.

Two unidentified Iranians used the passports to board the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight that remained missing almost a week later. A growing number of international media reports, citing unnamed investigators, said evidence increasingly points to someone taking over the plane, shutting down its communications system and flying for several more hours before crashing into Indian Ocean. Despite vehement denials of the western newspaper reports, Malaysian officials expanded the search area to the Indian Ocean March 13.

As many as five passengers aboard the doomed jet are believed to have traveled on stolen passports. When news broke that two of them booked in Pattaya, local police swooped down on both Grand Horizon and partner Six Star Travel Co. in Central Festival Pattaya Beach, which actually issued the tickets and sold them for 51,000 baht cash to Iranian Hashem Saheb Gharani Golestani, 51.

Police took Golestani, a 17-year Pattaya resident who runs a picture-framing business, in for questioning and searched his home March 11, but soon released him, saying there was no evidence he was connected to the stolen-passport ring or any terrorism.

International media also quoted both Interpol and Pattaya police officials as saying that Kolmohammadi is not suspected of any links to terrorists. He had originally booked the two Iranians on a different airline, then rebooked days later, asking travel agents for a cheaper flight.

His arrest warrant is related to human trafficking and stolen documents. Pattaya police Superintendent Col. Supachai Phuikaewkhum said the Iranian first traveled to Thailand in June 2012 and lived at the Royal Thai Residence on Thepprasit Soi 7 until departing for Tehran on Dec. 1.

Interpol officials in France were quoted last week saying that the two Iranian passengers also were “probably not terrorists.”

Investigators, however, saying someone - either a crewmember or passenger - took over MH370, “systematically” shutting down its radio and data-based communications system and likely flying up to four hours more before crashing, according to major newspapers in New York, Washington and London.

The HTMS Pattani, which initially helped search for the plane in the Straits of Malacca, was ordered to return to Sattahip for maintenance.

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