The public hearing of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the discovery of temporary transit camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis, was told that the Malaysian authorities were aware of the presence of the camps and graves much earlier than their Thai counterparts.
According to New Straits Times (NST) journalist, Aliza Shah Muhammad Shah, the then Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, however, decided not to disclose the discovery at the request of his Thai counterpart.
The 24th witness, Aliza Shah said Khalid admitted this to her when she met him at an event on Oct 10, 2015.
“Before I met Khalid, I contacted him via Whatsapp but he did not reply and when asked on Oct 10, he told me to turn off the recorders before I could ask questions.
“Khalid said he did not reply to me via Whatsapp because he did not want the conversation to be screenshot and spread to others.
“The question posed to Khalid was whether or not Malaysia knew about the camp and graves in January 2015 which was earlier than Thailand who made the announcement on May 1 that year,” Aliza said.
She said Khalid then went on: “Indeed we found the camps and the graves earlier but there was an agreement with Thailand for them to make the announce first.”
Khalid also requested that his statement not be reported for fear of offending his Thai counterpart.
For the record, the Thai police chief announced the discovery of the camps and graves in their country on May 1, 2015.
When asked why she asked Khalid such questions, Aliza said she wanted confirmation because at a press conference on May 25, 2015, Khalid had denied the matter.
Aliza added that she later met with then-Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi before publishing her exclusive with her editor, Farrah Naz Abd Karim, who was the 23rd witness.
Earlier, Farrah told the inquiry that they had gone against convention and shown Zahid documents they had received anonymously as proof, before asking for his comments.
“The minister heard what we had to say and promised to look into the issue thoroughly (‘lihat isu ini sehingga ke akar umbi’),” Aliza said.
Aliza and Farrah jointly authored a Dec 20, 2017 NST exclusive report alleging that police had discovered the human trafficking camps in January 2015, and not in May 2015, as officially announced. They said this had pointed to a “coordinated cover-up”.
Farrah told the inquiry that she had received a letter from the Inspector-General’s Office in 2018 to avoid any follow-up on the settlement camps and graves at Wang Kelian.
She claimed that the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) at that time had decided not to investigate alleged police misconduct in the discovery of human trafficking camps and graves in Perlis following a closed-door meeting with police top management.
After the article she co-authored with Aliza was published, Farrah said that she received an email from the EAIC asking her to assist in its investigation into possible police misconduct at the Malaysia-Thailand border.
“The EAIC asked us why we alleged that there was a coordinated cover-up, so we revealed information that was not even published in the report,” she said.
Farrah said after the session, EAIC officials told her that there were enough grounds to conduct an investigation.
“However, I learnt that two days after the session, the EAIC met with the then IGP Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun in a closed-door meeting. The investigation was called off after the meeting. I found this out months later when I called EAIC for another follow-up.
Farrah said Khalid’s answers during press conferences regarding Wang Kelian were dissatisfactory.
She related that during her investigations, she one day received a set of documents delivered anonymously to her father’s house where she was living then that contained the names of people arrested in connection with Wang Kelian, but whom the police later released.
She said the documents suggested a wider scale cover-up within the police force, adding that there were descriptions claiming Khalid lied when he denied knowledge of the mass graves in the early days.
Farrah said she was unsettled when the police classified the case as sudden death even though investigations weren’t complete at that stage.
“What I and my team were trying to do is find out why there was this alleged cover-up,” Farrah said.
“The documents I received had three to four reports on the discovery of the camps and graves in January. It was too good to be fake and even had pictures.
“I had also received anonymous calls and tips from various sources and all the information I got were verified by these documents.”
Farrah also questioned the big show by the police in announcing the despatch of a commando squad of 300 Very Able Troopers (VAT) to locate the graves in May 2015.
“I called some of those VAT commandos and they either had no clue of what I was talking about. Some were angry that someone would say they were afraid of booby-traps,” she recalled.
“We were wondering why the IGP was lying even though they had names of suspects involved in the case. In the end, they said there wasn’t enough information and dropped the case.
“We feel the IGP was lying a lot and there are plenty of question marks still surrounding this case,” she added.
Both Aliza and Farrah said they wished something had been done sooner which might have prevented the loss of more lives.
In 2015, the nation was shocked with the discovery of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps at the peak of Bukit Wang Burma in Wang Kelian located at the Malaysian-Thai border.
The RCI which was set up on Jan 29 is chaired by former chief justice Tun Arifin Zakaria and assisted by former inspector-general of police Tan Sri Norian Mai, along with six others.
The public hearing continues on May 14.
May 8, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Seven
Apr 26, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Six
Apr 24, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Five
Apr 23, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Four
Apr 22, Wang Kelian RCI: Day Three
Apr 17, Wang Kelian RCI: Day One