KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday said Pastor Raymond Koh, who was abducted five months ago, might have been kidnapped by human traffickers who were active along the Malaysia-Thai border.
But the Inspector-General of Police did not say why a criminal syndicate would abduct Mr Koh, a one-time preacher who has for a decade worked with single mothers, drug addicts and those struggling with HIV in Malaysia.
Mr Koh, 64, was abducted in broad daylight on Feb 13 as he was driving in Petaling Jaya.
Three black sport utility vehicles blocked his car, and eight masked men alighted and removed Mr Koh and his vehicle from the scene, according to footage captured on closed-circuit TV cameras installed in front of a nearby house.
The case has alarmed Malaysians because the footage showed a professionally executed abduction.
Tan Sri Khalid told a news conference yesterday that the alleged kidnappers have links to a criminal group in southern Thailand.
Several members of the traffickers were arrested by police in raids in the northern states of Kedah and Perak last month.
How events have unfolded
Feb 13: A report is lodged by Pastor Raymond Koh's son, Jonathan, after the former is seen being forcibly taken away by a group of masked men in Kelana Jaya, Selangor.
Feb 14: Police confirm receiving the report, investigation is launched.
Feb 18: Mr Koh's wife, Susanna Liew, pens a letter appealing for Mr Koh's safe return. The family also offer a RM10,000 (S$3,200) reward for information. This is later later raised to RM100,000
Feb 22: A police task force is set up.
Feb 27: Second report is lodged by the pastor's family over suspicion that the pastor, 64, has been murdered.
March 20: Police admit to having no leads in the case allegedly due to "too much publicity".
May 23: Ms Liew says she has lost confidence in the police, believes the latter are diverting the focus of investigation on to her husband and several other unnamed individuals for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity in Perlis.
May 24: Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar says a suspect has been nabbed in a northern Malaysian state but declines to divulge details. He hits back at suggestions that the authorities have been sitting on their hands and shifting the focus of the case.
June 17: Police gun down a 41-year-old arms and drugs smuggler in the state of Kedah, after a shoot-out. Three suspected syndicate members and his widow are detained.
July 25: Mr Khalid says the dead suspect was the one who abducted Mr Koh, linking the abduction to a group in southern Thailand. Police also believe the group to have been led by the suspect.
"We are working with our Thai counterparts. Based on the interrogation of three or four suspects (who were arrested this month), we believe that the group was led by the man who was gunned down recently. He was the one who abducted the pastor," Mr Khalid said, according to a transcript of the news conference.
He did not elaborate on why the victim was a target.
Responding to the new revelation, Mr Koh's wife Susanna Liew Sow Yoke said in a statement that the police have not been updating the family on the case.
"I hope that the police will contact me soon to arrange a meeting and to give me a proper update about my husband's case."
Police have previously said that on June 17, they killed a man who resisted arrest in a raid in Ulu Lenggong, Kedah.
They later arrested the man's wife, a Thai national, in Pengkalan Hulu in Perak.
Police say they found in the couple's Perak home a pipe bomb, 250g of heroin, several bullets and photos of Mr Koh, his house, vehicles and vehicle registration number.
Their investigations concluded that the dead suspect was a leader in an arms, drugs and human trafficking syndicate which has been operating along the Malaysia-Thai border.
Mr Koh's family has brought the matter to the United Nations working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
Mr Khalid said in May that police were also investigating reports that Mr Koh was attempting to proselytise Muslims, and determining if this had any connection to his abduction.