On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Crack down on criminals

In place of the EO, a new law to deal with hardcore criminals, with a built-in mechanism to stop abuses by the authorities, should be drawn up.

DRUGS, gambling and corruption – that’s the root cause of crime. You don’t have to be a criminologist to know where we have gone wrong, and what we have done, or not done, to stamp out the disease that is eating us up.

It has been reported that over 60% of snatch thieves caught are drug addicts. The statistics also show that half of the 30,000 prisoners have a history of drug use.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has also said that 48.2% of the prisoners had been found guilty of drug trafficking, possession and other drug-related offences.

Then there is the huge growth of illegal online gambling operations in towns and cities particularly in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

There are strong suspicions that, hiding behind the façade of Internet cafes, these gamblers, mostly youngsters, are resorting to criminal activities to “fund” their habit, according to Malaysian Crime Prevention Federation vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

“Some of them would do anything, including stealing and robbing, to get money. Initially, they start by stealing money from their parents and family members, and gradually move on to the streets. Most of these people have become habitual gamblers,” he said.

The media, including this newspaper, have regularly exposed illegal gambling outlets which offer online casino games.

One bold operator reportedly even distributed leaflets offering discounts, loyalty points and even original jerseys of English Premier League clubs to new gamblers!

Last year, The Star reported on the many illegal e-casinos with gambling programmes and live games broadcast from the Philippines. Despite the exposé, many carry on with business as usual.

Even the few that were raided and supposedly closed down have re-opened, according to my colleague who went undercover to investigate these places.

The underground gambling business has thrived simply because the operators know the authorities would never allow for legitimate outlets, be they outlets or clubs. The Genting Casino is likely to be the first and only casino ever to be sanctioned in Malaysia.

The result is that illegal gambling dens, whether in the form of cyber cafes or online casinos, have mushroomed.

The Home Ministry has a tough job on its hands. Zahid has proposed for a centralised body to be set up to coordinate enforcement and prevention efforts in curbing drug addiction and drug-related offences.

He has said that the body could be made up of personnel from the Customs Department, Health Ministry, Immigration Department, the National Anti-drug Agency (AADK) and the police.

Zahid is known as someone who means business but for the war against crime, he needs plenty of support.

Just look at the huge number of cyber cafes and massage outlets that come under the purview of the local councils. The police cannot be expected to raid every outlet as there are genuine ones too but the councils must do their part to keep an eye on the errant ones.

There are also strong suspicions that corrupt policemen and council officers are allowing the e-casinos to continue doing business.

Something does not tally here. Many of these outlets are known to the public and yet they appear to be unknown to the authorities. Can the public be faulted if they think there are crooked and rogue elements in uniform?

Regulated gaming outlets are frowned upon because of political and religious reasons, but illegal gaming outlets flourish as a result. And because they are illegal, there is also a loss in gaming taxes which would have been good revenue for the government.

Morale within the police force is low. The good cops feel they have been blamed for everything and, worse, they find that their hands are tied in crime-fighting.

The Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) research team on crime and policing has rightly said that the Emergency Ordinance, although criticised as a draconian, inhumane and undemocratic law, did serve its purpose in effectively dealing with terrorists, secret societies, criminal gangs, recidivists and organised crime members.

USM Associate Prof Dr P. Sundramoorthy said that most EO detainees in the last three decades were those alleged to be involved in violent gang activities, extortion, kidnapping, gaming, and in executing the day-to-day operations for organised/syndicated crime bosses.

Almost 2,000 criminals were released after the EO’s repeal last year. Since then, according to police officials as reported in the media, most of those released are back in business and they are more dangerous and commit crimes openly without regard for public safety.

Sundramoorthy, as the principal researcher of the team, said the nature of their crimes were generally violent, inhumane and cruel.

His team has a question for Malaysians: “The research team on crime and policing from USM would like to ask all law-abiding and peace-loving citizens: To what extent are we willing to give up safety for the sake of liberty and democracy?”

Perhaps there could be a middle ground – a new law to detain criminals with a built-in mechanism to stop abuses by the authorities which can include a review committee comprising ex-judges, retired police officers, welfare officers and elected representatives from both sides.

The bottom line is, we cannot expect our cops to deal with hardcore criminals the gentlemen’s way. The criminals should simply be locked up.