KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 ― Malaysia’s immigration authorities had skipped checks against an international database of stolen and lost passports as it could have slowed down clearance of passengers, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today.
Zahid, who was commenting on two Iranians who had managed to board the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 using stolen passports, said the country’s immigration’s equipment could not handle the massive global database of 40.2 million lost passports.
“In this case, information shows 40.2 million lost passports (information) were kept by Interpol, a figure that is too large. Malaysia’s immigration department’s database management system does not have the capability to keep it based on the existing capacity.
“Furthermore, Interpol’s information of lost (passports) may slow down the process of immigration’s check at counters,” Zahid told Parliament in his winding up speech on the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s royal address.
But Zahid said Malaysia’s immigration would be able to easily screen through and monitor passengers entering and exiting the country based on the names in the International Criminal Police Organisation’s (Interpol) Suspect List.
Interpol had actually handed the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database to the police force in a disc, Zahid said after pointing out the difficulties in checking it.
Today, Zahid maintained that the country's immigration department had matched “world standards” when carrying out border control, pointing out that its officers were highly trained.
He said immigration officers guarding Malaysia's entry points were trained by other countries including the US, UK, Australia and Canada to carry out profiling and detect false travel documents.
Any suspicions would prompt a second check through a Document Examination Centre (DEC), with a special lab at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) used by the immigration authorities to check dubious documents since 2007.
All DEC officers are trained and recognised by international agencies, he said.
But the two Iranians had failed to set off alarms during immigration checks, with Zahid detailing how KLIA officers had approved the duo's entry and exit despite following standard operating procedures.
Zahid said local immigration records showed that the duo had entered the country for the first time, indicating that they would not have managed to evade detection if they were re-entering the country using false identities.
He said the stolen passports used by the duo were genuine documents, but also pointed out that passports issued by some countries lacked security features such as biometrics and barcodes.
But Zahid also said the lack of such features in passports of foreign visitors could be addressed with the use of Advance Passenger Clearing System.
In Parliament today, Zahid listed the chronological account of how the two Iranians travelled from their home country to Doha, Qatar and then Phuket, Thailand where they bought the stolen passports believed to be priced at US$10,000 (RM32,938) each.
He confirmed that the two left Thailand and entered Malaysia using the stolen passports.
But he repeated the probe’s conclusion that both Iran nationals were neither “criminals” nor “terrorists”.
The discovery of the two Iranian passengers had deepened the mystery surrounding the disappearance of MH370, with a multinational search for the plane and the 239 passengers on board now in its 19th day.