PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian authorities have crippled a criminal gang that raked in RM14.5 million (S$4.7 million) in the last four years to help illegal foreign workers and foreigners with expired visas to remain the country.
Sources say the authorities have arrested 46 people, including 27 Immigration officers and 14 agents for foreign workers, in an operation named Ops Selat (Operation Strait).
They were nabbed on Monday in the blitz in Putrajaya, Selangor state, Johor Baru, Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) and Kuching (Sarawak).
The immigration officers involved in the syndicate have been living the "high life" after being paid money from their illegal activities in the last four years.
"We believe that some had purchased houses, cars, branded handbags, jewellery and plots of land," said a source close to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
"So luxurious was their lifestyle that some could even afford to buy a collection of watches at RM30,000 and a gaming computer worth RM18,000, " the source said.
Intelligence revealed that the gang provided two main services, and that they had serviced at least 30,000 foreign workers and other illegal immigrants over the years.
One scheme was called "flying passport" and the other "counter facilities".
Foreigners who committed various offences under the Immigration Act, including failure to produce return air tickets and not having sufficient cash, came to the syndicate for help.
"The intel showed that KLIA and KLIA2 are the easiest points for the movement of foreign workers and illegal immigrants," the source said, referring to the two terminals of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
"The MACC and the Immigration Department have taken action before, but somehow it did not scare them off or affect the rest."
Under the "flying passport" scam, the agents of these foreign workers would collect passports belonging those whose social visit passes have expired, which would otherwise force them to immediately leave Malaysia.
These passports would instead be marked with official, not fake, immigration's exit and entry stamps by the syndicate.
These would allow their work permits or visit passes to be extended, without their clients having to come down to the immigration department to explain themselves or get deported.
The "counter facilities" at KLIA and KLIA2 helped illegal immigrants who have been barred from re-entering Malaysia, or whose visas have expired.
For a fee of between RM500 and RM6,000, officers at the airports would turn a blind eye so that these foreigners could return to their countries of origin and then re-enter Malaysia, according to sources.
The syndicate was hard to uncover as everyone was paid in cash.
"There was no proof of activities as all transactions were made in cash and (they) were paid by agents at different locations. There are also those who use third party accounts for the purpose.
"However, investigators managed to uncover the syndicate and its activities by going undercover. That was how authorities managed to nab the culprits, " said one source.