Malaysia is investigating almost daily breakdowns of its 20-year-old airport immigration security system, believing there is a "high possibility" of collusion between enforcement agencies to allow travellers to slip through security protocols, said Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed.
He told The Straits Times yesterday that the computer system - linked to the Interpol database to verify within seconds if a passport has been stolen or reported lost - sometimes "crashes" several times a day, leading to suspicion that it is being deliberately compromised.
A recent spate of arrests involving foreigners with terror links has raised alarm and questions over how they could have entered the country, given the Interpol link-up.
The Auditor-General's report for last year found that data in the RM30 million (S$10.2 million) Malaysia Immigration system (myIMMs) - contracted to a local company without an open tender, even before the Finance Ministry's approval - was inaccurate and that "data integrity was suspicious".
"We suspect that a syndicate is hacking the system at opportune moments to allow people to enter the country illegally. This ring appears to have a wide reach into all parties involved," Datuk Nur Jazlan said. "There is a high possibility of complicity by enforcement, airport and airline staff from both the countries of origin and Malaysia."
Mr Nur Jazlan was on an inspection visit to Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday when he found out about the glitch-prone myIMMs system.
A source also told The Straits Times that the system went down for an hour at about 5am on Tuesday, when a plane from Bangladesh - a known source of illegal migrants living in Malaysia - was arriving. "Given that there is very low load at that time of the day, there is no reason for the system to overload," the source said.
Last Friday, police arrested 19 people, including two Malaysian immigration officers, suspected of trafficking Sri Lankans with fake Malaysian passports to Switzerland. In April, another Sri Lankan, wanted in his country over death threats against national leaders, was detained by Malaysian police before being deported home.
This month, two Russians with suspected links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were also deported. They had previously been deported from Turkey in February because of their alleged ties with the terror group.
The National Audit Department, meanwhile, has also found fault with the myIMMs deal. It said that RM10 million was paid for "uninstalled and unused" biometric equipment.
Its report said: "Agency link-up was not fully installed, however, full payment had been made."
It added that the Home Ministry did not carry out the user acceptance test and provisional acceptance test, despite these checks being a condition outlined in the agreement.
Separately, Indonesia's Transport Ministry yesterday said it plans to suspend the in-house ground-handling operations of carriers Lion Air and Indonesia AirAsia at two of the country's biggest airports. The ministry is investigating possible passenger-handling errors, Reuters reported.