Malaysian authorities have arrested 94 people in connection with a ring that smuggled in men and women from Myanmar through Thailand but was broken up by raids in late September, Malaysia’s police chief said Thursday.
Police Inspector-General Abdul Hamid Bador issued a news release announcing that 11 men from Myanmar taken into custody on Sept. 30 were linked to more than 80 people from Myanmar and Malaysia who were captured during a series of raids between Sept. 22 and 25. At least 83 of the 94 were people smuggled in from Myanmar, officials said.
Officers said one of the men captured on Monday had a U.N. refugee card. Police arrested him at a bus station in Selangor state along with three other suspects.
Acting on a tip after the arrests, police that same day raided a house in Puchong where they arrested seven more men, all believed to have been brought into the country by smugglers.
“All those detained and arrested from Myanmar were Rohingya, the same as the previous arrests,” a police source who was not cleared to discuss the investigation told BenarNews.
The source was referring to the earlier raids in the Klang Valley, Kelantan and Penang that resulted in the arrests of five men and one woman from Malaysia along with 74 men and three women from Myanmar, according to police.
“The syndicate involved locals and foreigners moving through Thailand and smuggling the migrants across the river to Rantau Panjang, Kelantan. All the migrants were sent by transport agents to other states to work in various sectors on the Malaysian peninsula,” Abdul Hamid said.
Five of the Myanmar suspects were listed as transport agents while the others were targets of the traffickers, according to police. A Malaysian man was listed as the head of the trafficking syndicate and the woman listed as the assistant head, while the other Malaysians were identified as transport agents.
Police did not release the names of the 94 people who were being held under Malaysia’s Immigration Act or the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act.
Previously, police announced that, on Sept. 24, officers shot and killed a 37-year-old Malaysian man thought to be a member of the syndicate. Selangor state police Chief Noor Azam Jamaluddin said the dead suspect had a lengthy criminal record including arrests on charges related to theft, drugs and extortion.
“A Myanmar national we believed was a middleman met the suspect and that was when police moved in to apprehend them,” Azam said at the time.
Police had trailed the suspect from Kelantan state, 300 km (186 miles) before attempting to apprehend him near Kuala Lumpur.
On Sept. 26, Cheong Koon Kock, deputy director the federal police’s special branch, said police had opened their investigation in April after learning about the syndicate.
He said the syndicate would transport the Myanmar nationals through Thailand where they would board boats to be taken across the border to Kelantan state, the most northeastern state in Peninsular Malaysia.