KUALA LUMPUR: Eight months ago, the both of us were given a lesson in betrayal.
That night in late March, as we discussed how the day had gone, “bhaiya”, as I sometimes call him, told me about a call he received from an expatriate, earlier.
The caller had sounded desperate, and told him that there had been a sudden influx of hundreds of Chinese nationals in recent weeks into her affluent condominium complex in Cyberjaya.
We decided to tackle this the journalists’ way.
After some basic “intel”, and background checks, we drove over to the condominium complex to stake out the place.
Preliminary checks en route did not reveal any new foreign direct investments in Cyberjaya that would explain the unusual surge of Chinese nationals.
Our best guess was that these individuals were either running an online gambling racket or some type of scam. In recent months, following a crackdown by local authorities, racketeers all over China had been ramping up their operations, sending out thousands to set up base in nearby countries.
Our observations over the next few days, confirmed our suspicions.
Every morning, these workers – hundreds of them – would leave for work from at least three other condominiums nearby for their office about half a kilometre away in Wisma Mustapha Kamal.
They leave their workstations at 11pm for the lines of chartered buses that would ferry most of them home. Others would stroll.
At one point, we were picked out by 'tontos' loitering near the office. We needed to be 'public'. A quick dash into a busy nearby convenience store gave us that much-needed temporary 'security'. Then, a stop at a makan shop for a 'quick drink'. A friendly conversation was struck between the owner to establish rapport – ‘insurance policy' against tontos who might have had thoughts about starting something.
Moments earlier, while inside the busy convenience store, this reporter managed to take some clear snapshots of one of the workers from China, who had happened to also pop in. Like the hundreds operating from the nearby building, he too, wore a white “company” T-shirt and a “work pass” on a lanyard.
We figured that the footage and images that we had captured would be enough for the next step.
Wrapping up our initial probe, we decided against going to the obvious authorities, for reasons best known to us.
Instead, we went to Bukit Aman where we shared our intel and “evidence” with very attentive and equally-concerned officers. After that hour-long meeting, a senior investigating office (SIO), who had sat in on our discussions, was assigned to the case. We were asked to assist the investigating team and were told that the federal police would be handling it.
We requested to document the whole investigation, but had to settle with just being called in “when the raid is conducted”.
That same night, we were off once again to Cyberjaya, this time, with the police. Over cold cups of coffee near ground zero, they watched as the foreigners headed back home.
We backed off when told: “We will take it from here”.
When a week passed without news from the cops, this reporter called the SIO to follow up. The following is the transcript of the conversation between April 15 and 16:
NST: Salam tuan. So far, based on info, ada basis ke tuan? (Is there any basis for a case?)
SIO: Setakat ini, dari rumah, mereka jalan kaki ke bangunan sebelah. Ikut pengalaman, MO macam ni bukan Macau/judi online. (So far, they have been walking to the adjacent building, from their homes. Based on our experience, this modus operadi doesn’t fit with Macau/online gambling syndicates).
SIO: Team teknikal baru turun pagi ini utk sahkan apa aktiviti, tq. (Our technical team just went to the ground to confirm what their activities are. Thanks)
The next day
SIO: Pihak IPD Sepang telah buat serbuan dan pihak forensik mengesahkan tiada aktiviti yang menyalahi undang-undang. (Sepang police raided the place and the forensics team confirmed that there were no illicit activities being carried out). Arrested 15 paperless Chinese nationals.
NST: Apa business yang mereka buat tuan? Saya ingat kita dah setuju masa serbuan semalam, kami akan diajak sekali? (What kind of business were they running? And I thought we agreed earlier that we would join the raid?)
SIO: Serbuan bukan pihak kita yg buat. Pihak IPD Sepang yg buat berdasar maklumat yang mereka terima. (We did not conduct the raid. It was the Sepang district police, based on the info that they received).
NST: Apa business mereka? (What business were they running?)
SIO: More kepada forex di negara China yg tidak ada kena mengena dengan tempatan. (More towards forex in China, which has nothing to do with local activities)
NST: Apa nama company tuan? (What is the name of the company?)
SIO: Tiada nama syk. (Nothing suspicious).
(Proceeded to forward a message with the company’s name) C***g J**g K**i.
As newshounds, the dejection we felt was almost palpable. We were convinced that in the ensuing days, the cops would be reining in the syndicate members and ultimately prevent an increase in statistics of online scam victims.
It just didn’t make sense... until Thursday, that is.
On Nov 21, the story of the country’s “largest online scam HQ in Cyberjaya” made headlines with the arrests of about 700.
So what actually happened during the low-key raid eight months ago by Sepang police (at the same location), that resulted in the arrest of a mere 15 undocumented foreigners?
It is understood that three after-action reports were lodged following the daylight Monday raid, on April 15, under “Op Dadu”.
A team of cops from the Sepang headquarters had raided all seven floors of the office building, one-by-one. Save for the top-most floor, they were all locked and somehow deserted.
This was in stark contrast to the time we did our week-long stakeout.
The raiding party, which broke down the doors, found 1,323 computers and laptops spread out all over the first six floors, but as expected, all were blank.
The seventh floor, which did not have any computers in it, was pretty much 'ready' for entry.
All in, 21 people were screened – 11 locals and 10 Chinese nationals .Those taken into custody were said to have been charged under Section 6 (1) of the Immigration Act.
It is understood that there was another after-action report lodged following the raid, but that is a story for another day...
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador, in an immediate reaction to this story, told this reporter: "The Immigration Department and the police have engaged with each other, to get the full details of this case."