Malaysian anti-graft body fears passport scam could be nationwide

Published: 4:00 AM, January 12, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s anti-graft body suspects that a passport fee scam that cost the Immigration Department more than RM1 million (S$321,511) in Selangor alone was only a small part of a much larger corruption scheme within the agency.

Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) deputy commissioner for operations Azam Baki reportedly said the fraud allegedly perpetrated by four Selangor state Immigration officers arrested on Monday could also be happening in other states.

“I cannot reveal too much details, but from the information we gathered, we have reason to suspect that this activity could be happening at most Immigration offices nationwide. We need to investigate first,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times (NST).

Mr Azam was commenting on the MACC’s arrest of four Immigration officers, who were believed to have issued valid receipts to applicants for RM200 for each passport application, then submitting false information that the applicants were disabled.

The officers were then allegedly able to pocket the money, as the fee is waived for disabled applicants.

“Initial investigations revealed that the suspects have been doing this since 2014. The department is estimated to have lost more than RM1 million in Selangor alone. The officers had abused the passport approval system,” Mr Azam said.

“This cannot be taken lightly because besides incurring financial loss for the country, it also violates the rights of the disabled and would jeopardise the group’s benefits provided by the government.”

The Shah Alam magistrate’s court on Tuesday remanded the four officers arrested by MACC for six days over the case involving more than 100 passport applications.

Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali said a nationwide internal audit found more than 100 payment reports with false information.

“Following the audit and intelligence gathering, we discovered the falsifying of information in international passport applications, and shared it with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. The department will not compromise with officers who commit a breach of integrity,” Mr Mustafar told the NST.

There has been a spate of arrests by MACC in recent weeks with the most high profile being the Sabah Water Department (SWD) scandal. Three former SWD officials claimed trial last month to 37 counts of misappropriating infrastructure funds in Sabah amounting to RM61.48 million in cash and bank savings.

The country’s Rural and Regional Development Ministry secretary-general Mohd Arif Ab Rahman has also been arrested for alleged graft following the seizure by MACC of cash and luxury items, including gold bars worth millions.

Mr Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, a director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia, told TODAY that the action by MACC was commendable but the timing was questionable with general elections on the horizon. “I think we will hear of more arrests as we get closer to the date as Najib attempts to rebrand himself for the rural voters.”

Analysts have suggested Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may call a snap election this year, even though it is not due until the middle of next year. AGENCIES