KUALA LUMPUR: To society, he is seen as a philanthropist, often helping his less fortunate countrymen. But what is not known is that this former Myanmar refugee and his Malaysian business partner make millions from the misery of those they traffick.
They have been linked to the trafficking of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis into this country along the Malaysia-Thai border.
The authorities are closing down on the two men, aged between their late 40s and 50s, who could be arrested under preventive detention laws soon, according to sources.
The two are said to be prominent figures in George Town and are known for their flamboyant lifestyles. The philanthropist from Kepala Batas set up base here two decades ago and is involved in issuing fake MyKad and UNHCR refugee documents to Rohingyas who entered the country illegally.
He has permanent resident status, is well-connected to local politicians and uses philanthropy to mask his illegal activities by donating generously to religious bodies and NGOs in Penang.
"We are working on how these two set up links with an international human trafficking syndicate," said a source. He added that armed assailants working for the traffickers posed as military personnel to avoid detection by military staff patrolling the border.
The noose closed on the traffickers two years ago after the authorities obtained information from local "tontos" who were the hired hands and from illegal immigrants in detention, said the sources.
They said the philanthropist and businessman used to hire locals to smuggle diesel, rice and other items into and out of Thailand.
They later moved on to human trafficking because the returns were better, especially since the pick-up points along the border were manned by Thai syndicate members linked to them.
One pick-up point was two and a half hours' walk from the campsites where the mass graves were discovered in Bukit Burma and another was two days' walk to Padang Besar through a sugarcane plantation.
The sources said the illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshis were forced to pay a fee of RM7,000 (S$2,580) each to armed Thais of the international syndicate when they arrived at the border. Those who failed to do so were killed or left behind to starve.
The "ransom" was paid as follows:
> The Thais keep between RM1,000 and RM1,500 per head and pass on the balance to Malaysians linked to the George Town businessman.
> Tontos hired by the businessman to transport the illegals to Penang and Sungai Petani get RM100 per immigrant banked directly into their accounts after they have dropped off the victims.
> Some of the balance money is used to bribe enforcement authorities and the rest go the masterminds.
The sources said the tontos were mostly jobless youths facing financial difficulties after leaving their homes in Kuala Perlis or Padang Besar. A tonto can earn up to RM1,500 each trip by squeezing 15 immigrants into one van.
Since the discovery of the mass graves on both sides of the border, sources said those arrested were only the small fry and the real sharks with links to the syndicate were still free.
It has been difficult to zero in on the culprits because the tontos were given a different mobile phone SIM card each trip, destroying the used card once they dropped off the illegals.
They added that some illegals were sent to work as cheap labour on construction sites while others were sent to the Burmese colony in Kuala Perlis to be traded.
On May 16, at 10.15am, a team of officers from General Operations Force found a camp with four men along the border. The four foreigners fled but the police seized army fatigues, food, a Vietnamese international passport and a hammock.
Sources said the four were believed to be armed assailants of the trafficking syndicate.