There are many unknowns about the disappearance of flight MH370, but one detail that is certain is that at least two passengers on the plane were travelling on stolen passports. It seems now that the two young Iranian men concerned were nothing more sinister than economic migrants, but the experts who have been wheeled out to comment have revealed the worrying extent of the trade in stolen passports, and the efforts that are being made to counter it.
It turns out that Interpol has a database of Stolen and Lost Travel Documents. It was created in 2002, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “to help member countries secure their borders and protect their citizens from terrorists and other dangerous criminals using fraudulent travel documents” (including passports, ID documents and visas). The database can be searched by Interpol National Central Bureaus and other authorised law enforcement agencies (such as immigration and border control officers) who wish to check whether a travel document is valid. As of March 2014, the database contains information on more than 40 million travel documents reported lost or stolen by 167 countries. In the case of flight MH370, it appears that airport and airline staff did not check the database – although both stolen passports were on it.
Bizarrely, it seems that this fabulous database is not being used routinely. According to a BBC report, “the SLTD database is available to Interpol’s 190 member states, but only three are said to systematically search the database – the US, the UK and the UAE. It remains the responsibility of individual countries to integrate Interpol’s database into their own security procedures, and although the information is free to access Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to install.” Is that all? Goodness, why don’t MLROs have a whip-round and see if we can get it installed in our AML systems too? Seriously, it would be a terrifically useful addition to CDD checks – after all, with 40 million stolen travel documents out there, some are bound to cross the desk of the MLRO from time to time.