Tuesday, January 03, 2012

For RM10, smugglers can breeze in and out

Corruption is rampant among law enforcers at border checkpoints

FOR a paltry sum, enforcement officers manning the country’s border checkpoints can be bought to provide smugglers a hassle-free passage.

Intelligence reports, backed by three years of surveillance by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, have revealed that the “buying” involved the lowest-ranking personnel right up to their bosses — who all guaranteed a pass through various levels of security checks.

The New Straits Times team, which joined several surveillance operations recently, found out the “rates” at the Rantau Panjang checkpoint.

It starts at RM10 at the front-most line, which is usually manned by General Operations Force (GOF) officers, while their Customs counterparts would accept RM50 or RM100 to allow a smuggler in and out of the country.

Officers from the Anti-Smuggling Unit would haggle for a fee of between RM10 and RM40. With Road Transport Department staff, however, smugglers would have to deal directly with their “boss”.

After paying between RM100 and RM150, the team was given a small sticker for the “smuggling vehicle”.
Smugglers with such stickers would be “protected”. Goods that are smuggled include RON 95 petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas.

With cash in small denominations, our van, loaded with contraband rice and other taxable goods, breezed through every checkpoint.

Surveillance at the Rantau Panjang border showed that from 6am to 10pm daily, between 50 and 100 vehicles freely moved goods in and out of the country.

A source said there would be at least four levels of security at the borders at any one time, but most of the officers (GOF, RTD, Customs and Anti-Smuggling Unit) were on the take.

Although Immigration Department officers were not involved, they failed to check the travel documents of those passing through the checkpoints.

“This is more than just about revenue or subsidised goods and losses for the country. Weapons and drugs could easily be smuggled into the country.

“The corruption is so deep-rooted that only a major shake-up of these checkpoints can rectify the problem,” said the source, adding that the authorities at the federal level should consider a more frequent rotation of officers.

At present, officers take about a year at their stations to get comfortable with the smugglers.

The NST was also made to understand that joint operations to arrest enforcement officers were difficult because details of the operations would be leaked.

The source said the “strong bond” between law enforcers and smugglers was hard to break, and they would never snitch on each other.

But operations by graft-busters had recently resulted in some of these officers being charged in court. However, a few GOF officers caught on tape taking bribes were only disciplined by their department and reassigned to other duties.


Officers make RM5,000 a day

AS our van rolled to a stop in front of the Rantau Panjang security checkpoint near the Malaysian-Thai border, an officer from the General Operations Force (GOF) walked out of the guard post and motioned us to lower the window.
“Sepuluh ringgit, cepat, cepat (RM10, hurry, hurry),” he whispered, extending his hand inside the vehicle and glancing nervously at the other vehicles that had pulled up behind our dilapidated van.

An undercover enforcement officer in the front passenger seat pulled out RM10 and handed it  to the middle-aged GOF officer. He then let us through with a wave of his hand.

Moments later, at another checkpoint — this time,  Customs —  the undercover agent  got out and opened the back door of the van and showed them our illicit cargo of contraband fragrant rice stuffed in pillowcases and other taxable goods.

The payoff this time was RM50 and the methodology involved a bit of sleight-of-hand.

To prevent the drivers of the vehicles behind us from witnessing the transaction, the undercover agent discreetly placed the RM50 on the pile of rice.

The  Customs officer came around and pretended to rummage through the pile of contraband.

The RM50 was deftly swept up in one fluid motion. David Copperfield himself couldn’t have done it better.
Getting through the third round of checks was a breeze as prior arrangements had been made with one of the “bosses” at the Road Transport Department who gave us a “licence to smuggle”.

For RM250, we  got a green sticker that was stuck to the windscreen. This indicated to his men on the ground that we were one of the “untouchables”.

Now in the home stretch, our last hurdle was the Anti-Smuggling Unit checkpoint. True to form, we were let through with  a bribe of only  RM50.

At all the border security checkpoints, we were let through by the various enforcement agencies with no more than a cursory look, a casual nod and a payoff.
It is believed that these officers would rake in anywhere from RM3,000 to RM5,000 a day, depending on the traffic flow.
In an earlier operation to weed out “crooked” enforcers at the Bukit Kayu Hitam checkpoint, they flatly denied any involvement with smuggling syndicates.

One vehemently denied any involvement, saying repeatedly that he had no idea what the undercover officers were talking about. The minute he was shown video evidence, his memory improved immediately.

smuggling illicit goods

An officer at the Malaysian-Thai border accepting a bribe from a driver smuggling illicit goods into Thailand.
 RM250 green sticker
The RM250 green sticker (inset) that was affixed to the windscreen of a van. The sticker ensures a smuggler will not be bothered by RTD officers at the checkpoint.