KUANTAN • Malaysia's anti-graft agency has seized 10 million tonnes of bauxite worth RM1.28 billion (S$406 million) dug up around the Pahang capital of Kuantan.
The aluminium-making commodity was dug up by unregulated miners for export to top aluminium producer China, despite an official ban against its mining from January last year.
At least 10 officers from the Land Mines Office and the Customs Department are under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the continued mining.
The Malaysian government stepped in last year to ban all bauxite mining in Pahang, the home state of Prime Minister Najib Razak, following a huge public outcry over water contamination and other environmental damage.
The mining ban had been extended several times since January last year. The moratorium on mining the mineral will be lifted only after Dec 31 this year.
MACC deputy chief commissioner of operations Azam Baki said the seizure would prevent the bauxite from being taken out of the stockpile area for business or other purposes, The Star on Saturday quoted him as saying.
"The action to seize the bauxite will involve all bauxite stockpile on government-owned and private- owned land in the state," he said in a statement on Saturday.
Mr Azam said the MACC has proposed to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to revoke all approved permits, or APs, issued earlier to mine operators.
The MACC last week detained nine Pahang Land Mines Office officials and a Customs Department assistant director based in Kuantan Port in a sting operation against the illegal mining.
All of them were believed to be part of a protection syndicate that allowed the illegal mining of the mineral in the Bukit Goh and Bukit Sagu areas in Kuantan.
The New Sunday Times reported yesterday that a drive along the major roads in the area found wide land clearing with towering stockpiles of bauxite.
Heavy machinery and excavators were silent at areas where reddish bauxite stained the earth, with their operators not seen within the vicinity, it said.
The Malaysian government was embarrassed early last month when China's export data showed that a year and a half after banning bauxite mining to force miners to meet environmental standards, exports to its main customer China were growing.
Exports hit 719,614 tonnes in May and was 9 million tonnes last year, which raised public anger over illegal mining, Reuters reported last month.
Residents and politicians in the bauxite-mining east coast region are calling for a total export ban of the aluminium raw material, but industry figures and analysts indicate shipments are likely to continue.
Malaysia had halted the mining but allowed exports to continue to deplete vast stockpiles at ports where run-off after monsoon rains had polluted waters and led to a public outcry.
But 18 months later, the stockpiles last month were the same size as they were at the start of the ban, the Reuters report said.
It quoted Ms Fuziah Salleh, the MP for Kuantan, as saying that residents have been complaining of fresh excavations.
"There will still be contamination with the dust and erosion of stockpiles into the water."