Information Department deputy chief Jakkrit Sriwali on Thursday described the missing slips as an "irregularity" caused by Malaysian staff employed at the embassy.Mr Jakkrit said tough legal action would be taken against those responsible, including Thai nationals.The 300 visa slips were found missing from the embassy after border police officers arrested a Nigerian national who was on the immigration watch list.
According to a report on the Khaosod newspaper website, 259 of the 300 missing stamped slips have been used by foreigners, some of whom are either on terrorism prevention watchlists, or marked on immigration records as being ineligible for entry or re-entry into Thailand.
The arrest of 35-year-old Nigerian Sunday Edwin Naemeka, which exposed the scandal, took place at Songkhla Immigration Office in Sadao district on the Thai-Malaysian border on Wednesday morning. Immigration police arrested him as he was trying to leave the country. After checking with Immigration Police Sub-division 1, the Songkhla officers were told that Mr Naemeka was considered a possible threat to national security by the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur because the visa slip on page 6 of his passport could have been acquired illegally.
A source said immigration police at Mukdahan province bordering Laos earlier arrested a Cameroon national who was entering the country from Savannakhet. They found a visa slip issued by the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur in his passport. Following a subsequent check, the Thai embassy said the visa slip was genuine, but the man had never actually travelled to Malaysia. He confessed to having paid 3,000 Malaysian ringgit, or about 30,000 baht, for the visa.
It then emerged that 300 of out of a total of 3,000 visa slips given by the Foreign Ministry to the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur had gone missing.
In total, 259 of the 300 missing slips have been issued - 35 to Iranians, 20 to Nigerians, four to Pakistanis, four to Indians, and most of the rest to others from the Middle East. More than 200 of the slips have been used and the people involved had already left the country, but 55 others are said to be still in Thailand.
Investigations revealed that the foreign nationals bought their visas from a Thai woman known as "Mama", whose address was given as Soi Pattanakarn 64 in Bangkok. To get the visa, the foreigners gave her their passport, a photo, and 10,000 baht. A few days later they were required to pay another 20,000 baht to retrieve their passport with a stamped visa slip in it.
Mr Jakkrit said officials had known about the disappearance of the slips for some time, but the case had not been made public because the Foreign Ministry did not want those holding the illegally-obtained visas to be aware they were being hunted.
Two committees to investigate the incident have been set up, one by the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the other by the Foreign Ministry. The ministry's committee went to Kuala Lumpur in July to conduct an investigation, Mr Jakkrit said, adding that they found those responsible for the crime had tried to cover their tracks.
The Thai suspects involved are believed to be outsiders without links to immigration authorities, he added.
Reports said officials from the National Security Council are working with the Immigration Police Bureau because some of those who had used the missing slips are on a watch list for the prevention and suppression of transnational terrorism.
Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok, who is in charge of security affairs, said he had been informed about the issue.
He said nine of the people who had used them to enter Thailand had been detained - two at the Mukdahan border with Laos and seven at Suvarnabhumi Airport. The three Pakistanis, two Indians, two Iranians, one Cameroonian and one New Guinea national - are being held at the Immigration Police Bureau at Suan Phlu, Pol Gen Pracha said.
Asked whether investigations would be conducted to find out if the incident had anything to do with terrorist movements, Pol Gen Pracha said the agencies concerned already had standard procedures to check the visas of all arrivals into Thailand.
What was questionable was why this had happened at the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur, he said. Of the 300 missing slips, 100 are marked with codes from A4049901 to A4050000, 100 from A4055501 and A4056000, and another 100 from A5801901-A5802000.
Immigration offices along the borders had been alerted to watch out for the remaining individuals thought to have entered Thailand using the illegally obtained visas.
The visa office at the Thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur employs five officials - three Thais and two Malaysians.
Another man named as Kimba Yaou, 35, was detained by immigration police at Sadao Checkpoint on Thursday after using the missing visa stamp number A5081922. He said he obtained the visa by paying around US$1,000 as he wanted to visit his pregnant wife in Thailand. He is also a footballer and wants to contact football clubs to play in Thailand.