KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia has sacked 15 immigration department officers and suspended 14 others after an investigation found staff had colluded with criminal syndicates to manipulate systems that track entry and exit.
The subterfuge was centred at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and had begun in 2010, the department's director-general Sakib Kusmi said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Around two dozen other department staff have faced administrative action or were under observation, 63 have been transferred, and criminal charges could be forthcoming, he said.
"The syndicates hacked or breached our system with the help of the involved immigration officers," he said.
Datuk Seri Sakib added that the activity allowed criminal networks - which included foreign elements - to manipulate information on who entered or left the country.
International and domestic syndicates were involved, deputy police chief Noor Rashid said. He suggested that the motive was human trafficking.
"These overseas syndicates - their responsibility is to bring the man over and collect payments; the syndicates here, their job is to accept. These are the ones that tried to penetrate the system," he said.
Human rights groups have questioned Malaysia's efforts to combat human trafficking after the discovery of mass graves of suspected migrants near the border with Thailand last year.
Malaysia has an estimated two million illegal migrant labourers.
The immigration system breach has also raised concern about security. The authorities in the Muslim-majority country have arrested about 170 people since the beginning of last year for suspected militant activity.
But no mention was made of any terrorist or extremist involvement in the airport breach, and Mr Sakib said no high-level immigration officials were implicated.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS