Iranian linked to stolen passports on doomed jet

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Beijing sent two delegations here Monday to probe stolen passports as reports surfaced that an Iranian man purchased the two tickets used by those passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared Saturday off the coast of Vietnam.

Chinese diplomat Guo Shaochun arrived with a 10-member working group from the Chinese ministries of foreign affairs, transport, public security and the civil aviation administration. Earlier, a team from China's Ministry of Public Security arrived to discuss the passports with their Malaysian counterparts.

The passports, one Italian and one Austrian, were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013. CNN and the Financial Times, citing Thai police, reported that an Iranian man named Kazem Ali purchased the tickets used with the passports for two friends who he said wanted to return home to Europe. The tickets were paid for in cash, the reports said.

Guo said he hoped his team would help speed up Malaysia's investigation of the jet's disappearance and improve co-ordination between the several countries now involved. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the Chinese government "urges the Malaysian side to step up their efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information to China in a timely fashion."

The Global Times, a leading Chinese Communist Party newspaper, was less diplomatic. "The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," said a biting editorial. "The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough. There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security authorities."

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard -- most of them Chinese -- when it vanished from radar screens.

Late Monday, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Transport Pham Quy Tieu said a third day of search and rescue operations failed to turn up a trace of the jet. He said four countries have been authorized to search in Vietnamese territory - Malaysia, Singapore, China and the USA. Overall, ten countries were involved in the search.

He said operations would continue Tuesday and would include more aircraft to cover a wider search area. Phu Quoc, a resort island in the Gulf of Thailand, has been established as the command center for Vietnam's efforts to locate the jet.

Contributing: Thomas Maresca in Vietnam


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