Bukit Aman slow to act on Wang Kelian camps and graves, RCI told

Former Padang Besar district police chief Rizani Che Ismail (right) arriving for the RCI hearing today.

PUTRAJAYA: A witness at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mass graves and human trafficking camps found in Wang Kelian said Bukit Aman and the Perlis authorities were slow to act following the discovery of a suspected human trafficking camp and graves on Wang Burma hill in January 2015.

Former Padang Besar district police chief Supt Rizani Che Ismail said he believed the Perlis authorities were slow to act because they were awaiting further instructions from Bukit Aman, even though he personally believed the case to be “quite shocking”.

“The police chief was forced to refer to the Bukit Aman leadership to get approval,” Rizani, now the assistant director of the technical assistance division at Bukit Aman, told the inquiry this afternoon.

“I believe that on my side, we were waiting for instructions. Under me, in January 2015, my strength was 26 officers and 290 members.

“I would have been willing to carry out the task if I were given instructions and back-up.”

Asked by former inspector-general of police Norian Mai, one of the members of the inquiry, on why he thought the authorities were slow to act, Rizali said: “In my view, maybe those at top leadership felt this issue was sensitive and wanted to preserve the bilateral ties with Thailand.

“Another thing is, since this was an international issue, and the graves were found in Malaysia, maybe they wanted to take care of our tier (for human trafficking). Maybe that was what was felt by those at Bukit Aman.”

Rizali, the 12th witness, also said it was Bukit Aman which gave orders to the Perlis police chief to halt investigations when a body was found in one of the graves on Wang Burma hill during a follow-up visit he had led on March 6, 2015.

He said he started to suspect criminal involvement in the case following the visit, during which the forensics team from the Perlis police headquarters had dug out the body.

“At this point, it crossed my mind that this could be a criminal case,” he said.

Rizali said he briefed the Perlis state police chief and his deputy about the discovery the next morning

However, he said he was told by his superiors to halt the investigations, adding that the instruction had made him feel “in conflict”.

Asked if this was the instruction by Bukit Aman, he said “yes”.

Razali also said bilateral meetings with Thai authorities had not mentioned the existence of illegal immigrant camps near the border.

“In my memory, the issue was never discussed. There was communication with the district police there (in Thailand) but this was not discussed. At my level, I never touched on the subject,” he said.

On the detention of 38 illegal immigrants by a team led by ASP Joeking Marian Anthony during a raid on a jungle camp at the foot of Wang Burma hill on Jan 19, 2015, Razali he said their detention was treated as an immigration issue and not a criminal one.

He said this was because initially, they had not suspected any involvement by individuals in any syndicate.

He explained that it was common practice in cases involving illegal immigrants to refer to the Immigration Department unless there was suspicion of involvement by individuals or syndicates.

He said this was a standing order from 2007 which was still in practice.

The RCI was set up by the home ministry to look into the discovery of mass graves and human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian three years ago.

Former chief justice Arifin Zakaria leads the inquiry panel. The other panel members are Norian, Noorbahri Baharuddin, Razali Ismail, Junaidah Abd Rahman, Nazirah Hussain and Tan Seng Giaw. Yusran Shah Yusof is the secretary of the RCI.

The inquiry resumes tomorrow.