There were 1,739 illegal passports, visas and other travel documents detected at Japanese airports and ports from January to June, up 42 percent from the same period last year.

The Justice Ministry said 853 of the items were forged passports, 50 percent of which were held by Chinese nationals. According to the Immigration Bureau, 423 Chinese had bogus passports, followed by 81 Iranians, 77 Thais and 65 Filipinos.

The number of Chinese with forged passports increased by 250, while the numbers for other nationalities decreased or remained unchanged from the same term a year earlier.

A senior ministry official said immigration authorities were able to find more illegal documents because of the SARS epidemic led to a decrease in foreigners entering and leaving Japan, and allowed for better scrutiny.

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