Bangkok: Police have disrupted a major fake passport syndicate supplying travel documents to people wanting to reach Australia.
Australian investigators worked closely with authorities in Thailand to identify six key members of the syndicate, including a master forger known as "The Doctor".
Authorities have suspected for years that Thailand has been a booming market for fake travel documents, some of which they believe have ended up in the hands of criminal and terror networks.
Two passengers on the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 bought fake passports in the Thai seaside resort of Pattaya in 2014, prompting police to express concern at the time about what they said was a "massive problem" in Thailand.
Police seized 173 counterfeit passports that had been prepared for international clients during a raid on a house in Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok late on Monday.
The passports bore seals of approval from Thai and foreign immigration bureaus, police said.
Police seized sophisticated devices and equipment used to make fake passports, including stamping machines, screen-printing devices, sewing, punching and engraving machinery and paper.
They also found fake stamps of approval from Thai immigration checkpoints and visa stickers.
Police said a 48-year-old Iranian man they identified as Hamid Reza Jafary who was arrested at the house was wanted by authorities in Australia, Thailand, Britain, France and New Zealand.
Police said Jafary had confessed during interrogation that he was the forger known as "The Doctor" who had sold fake passports to clients around the world but mostly to people from Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan who wanted to travel to Australia and Europe.
They said he also admitted selling fake passports to human trafficking rings in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh for between $2000 and $3200.
After customers transferred payment to Jafary's bank account the fake passports would be sent via a courier service to both individual clients and traffickers.
Police said Jafary, who has been living in Thailand for 25 years after arriving on a fake passport, imported forgery tools from China and used sophisticated techniques to produce "mirror" passports, mostly from European countries.
Police said they had known about a forger known as "The Doctor" for years but had been unable to capture him as he only ever made contact with a small group of fake document agents.
Police have also arrested five Pakistani men who they alleged were working with Jafary.
Thai immigration police chief Nathorn Phrosunthorn said the arrests would help authorities suppress international human trafficking rings.