PUTRAJAYA: Former top cop Khalid Abu Bakar today defended his instructions to put on hold all aspects of investigations into the discovery of mass graves and human trafficking camps in Wang Kelian four years ago.
He said he had instructed then-Perlis police chief Zul Aznam Haron to wait before taking action after the latter told him they were unsure whether the camps were located in Malaysia or Thailand.
“They could not verify if the location of the camps was in Malaysia or Thailand, so I instructed him to find out. This is because I did not want to take action in an area that is beyond our jurisdiction.
“On the discovery, he could not give me any information. I ordered him to get more information on the discovery and those believed to be involved.
“That is why I gave instructions to hold,” he told the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) here.
Khalid said when Zul briefed him on the matter, he said the exact location had yet to be determined.
“If we are not sure if the location is in Malaysia, our actions could breach the law. What powers do we have to raid over on the Thai side?”
When asked by the panel whether it should take four months to determine the location when this should be done within a day or a few hours, Khalid reiterated that his men were unsure of the location.
“They also wanted to gather information on those involved. When the police chief briefed me, and when I asked him for the information, he could not give it.”
Zul previously told the RCI that he had called Khalid on Jan 20, 2015 to inform him of the detention of 38 illegal immigrants and the discovery of a suspected human trafficking camp and grave-like structures.
He also told the inquiry that they were not doing anything until they received further instructions from Khalid.
When asked whether he had followed up with Zul after that, Khalid said he did, as far as he could recall.
“They were required to flush and comb the area to get more information on who was involved in the said activity. But there were no developments or information until May, when forensics came in and exhumed the bodies,” he said.
On whether he was dissatisfied with the performance of the Perlis police chief for not getting back to him with further information, Khalid said yes.
“I said just now that when I asked for more information on who was involved, he could not tell me. I was not happy.
“He knows I was not happy. I had ordered him to get more information,” he added.
Khalid also told the panel that he had met up with his Thai counterpart at a meeting in Phuket, but that he could not recall when.
“I asked him to check on his side. I told him what was found, but I did not get any feedback from him,” he said.
In his testimony earlier, Khalid denied that he was not concerned over what had happened in Wang Kelian.
“I did not need to announce to the public every single action I took. I had my deputy to answer, as well as the Perlis police chief.
“They had their responsibilities with which I entrusted them,” he said.
Khalid also hailed police investigations into the Wang Kelian incident as a success, saying the police had successfully taken action.
“This is because the investigations concluded with people being charged, even if their involvement was small,” he said.
Khalid also said while he did not deny there was corruption at the borders, there was no proof of the involvement of politicians or high-ranking police.
“Even until I retired, nobody could show me if the top police brass were involved,” he said.
The RCI was set up by the home ministry to look into the discovery of mass graves and human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian in 2015.
Former chief justice Arifin Zakaria leads the inquiry panel. Other panel members are former inspector-general of police Norian Mai, Noorbahri Baharuddin, Razali Ismail, Junaidah Abd Rahman, Nazirah Hussain and Tan Seng Giaw.
A total of 139 graves and 28 abandoned camps were discovered at Bukit Wang Burma in Wang Kelian, near the Malaysia-Thailand border.
Over 100 skeletal remains, believed to be of Rohingya refugees, were found in the graves.
The government at the time was criticised for its lack of action against top officials. Although four individuals were charged in court, critics said these were merely small-time traffickers.