By P Prem Kumar
KUALA LUMPUR (AA) – Malaysia's immigration department has sacked 15 officers and suspended 14 others accused of compromising migration systems at two major airports and allowing human trafficking syndicates to move illegal migrants in and out of the country.
Immigration Director-General Sakib Kusmi said Tuesday that some 37 officers were found guilty of “sabotaging” the Malaysian Immigration System (myIMMs) over the past six years.
"We have sacked 15 officers, suspended 14 and frozen the salary movement of eight," he told a press conference.
In 2014, the MyIMMs system -- implemented around 20 years ago -- was linked to Interpol’s I-Checkit to enable authorities to verify within seconds if a passport had been stolen or reported lost.
Last week, a source told Anadolu Agency that the myIMMs system had been found to have been downed once a day, allowing manual screening by counter officers in two major international airports in capital Kuala Lumpur.
"The system is believed to have been switched off deliberately, so when the system [appeared] crashed, passports would be stamped manually."
Migrants would thus evade computer checks that would register them as entering or leaving the country, check their names on international terror databases, or confirm if their passports were genuine or forged.
Kusmi said Tuesday that the department's internal probe found that the tampering had begun in 2010 and involved a network masterminded by syndicates from abroad that made use of Malaysians, including immigration officers.
"The syndicate hacked or breached our system with the help of the involved immigration officers and it was able to control the movement of anyone entering or leaving the country," he said.
The penalized officers include those on duty at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 1 and 2, information technology staff and officers working with the vendor of the system.
They were in service between six months and 15 years.
Kusmi added that 20 more officers suspected to involvement in the syndicate are being held under observation subject to an internal investigation by the department.
Around 63 officers at various levels have also been transferred, and the department plans on implementing a large-scale transfer exercise at airports to restrict suspicious activities.
Kusmi had said earlier that the department found elements of sabotage in its myIMMs system since 2010, adding that the issue had grown to a serious level, forcing the authorities' hand.
Stolen or forged passports have long been a problem for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, with smuggling gangs using them to move -- among others -- Uighur Muslims from China's restive Xinjiang region and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to third countries
International traffickers are believed to utilize a labyrinth of networks to move Uighur from China -- where they say they face persecution -- through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and then through Thailand's southern border into Malaysia, to Kuala Lumpur and beyond.
Rohingya, meanwhile, travel on boats from Internally Displaced Person camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar region and Myanmar's western Rakhine State -- where they face persecution that many human rights groups have claimed is state sanctioned -- to Thailand, and then through Thailand's southern border into Malaysia, and to its capital and beyond.
In mid-May, Malaysian police arrested 19 people suspected of trafficking Sri Lankan nationals with fake Malaysian passports to Geneva, Switzerland.
In a four-week operation, the police arrested six Malaysians -- including two immigration officers, one agent and three runners -- as well as 10 Sri Lankans and three Indian agents.
Recently, two Russians and a Sri Lankan were detained in Malaysia's central Selangor state on terror offences.
Questions were raised as to how the men could enter Malaysia when the Sri Lankan was on a wanted list in his country, and the Russians had been deported from Turkey in February on suspicion of ties to Daesh.