KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIAN police have arrested five immigration officials for involvement in an international trafficking syndicate dealing in refugees from Myanmar, a top officer said on Tuesday.
The five were among nine people detained for receiving payments from a syndicate that 'sold' refugees mostly from Myanmar's Rohingya minority as forced labour, Criminal Investigation Department head Mohammad Bakri Zinin told state media.
His comments were confirmed to AFP by police.
'According to a victim, the suspects were directly involved in human trafficking, starting from the Malaysia-Thai border' to other 'exit points to international countries,' he told state news agency Bernama.
'Upon reaching the exit point, the victims were handed over to a syndicate before being taken to a neighbouring country,' he added without identifying the exit points.
Mr Bakri said the refugees were charged between 300 to 600 ringgit (S$122 to S$244) each and those who could not afford to pay would be sold to owners of fishing industries in Thailand until they worked off their debts, the New Straits Times reported.
He said the five immigration officers had been operating their network since last year with the other four people arrested responsible for transporting the illegals across the county, the paper reported.
Police were made aware of the group's existence in March this year.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said recently his country was being used as a transit point for illegal immigrants.
One of Asia's largest importers of labour, Malaysia relies on its 2.2 million migrants to clean homes, care for children and work in plantations and factories.
The Bengali-speaking Rohingya Muslims are from mainly Buddhist Myanmar, which denies the minority group citizenship and property rights, leading to their abuse, exploitation and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their country. -- AFP