Apartment a 'prison' for young beggars

KAJANG - At first glance, the eight-storey apartment in Bandar Mahkota Cheras looks like an ideal location for a quaint and peaceful home.

However, it hides a dark secret.

Behind their ordinary doors, several fifth floor units were "prison" for 19 youths who were beaten up if they failed to bring back enough money from begging.

Residents here complained of hearing heated arguments and cries coming from the unit.

A heavily tattooed man had apparently rented the unit, as well as a neighbouring apartment.

"We always saw the man entering the premises to check on the youths before and after they went to 'work'.

"He looked tough and aggressive. I got bad vibes from him since the first day they moved here," said a resident who declined to be named.

On April 4, one of the youths tried to jump out of the apartment window when he could no longer endure the beatings after failing to return with the "compulsory" daily amount of RM300 (S$95).

Two days later, a police team raided the apartment and rescued the youths, including four women, aged 17 to 28.

Three men and a woman, believed to be members of a begging syndicate, were arrested.

Police also seized several receipt booklets, catalogues of an orphanage, donation forms, a modem, a wireless router, a CCTV and over RM3,000 in cash.

Another resident said several weeks ago, he heard screams coming from the unit and saw one of the youths leaving the unit with his head bloodied afterwards.

"He was accompanied by a man. They headed straight out and I suspect they went to the nearest clinic.

"I wanted to report the incident but I was scared that if I did something, I would get into trouble," he said, adding that the group had moved into the unit about three months ago.

While some of the youths had told the residents they were promoting credit cards, others claimed to be selling books to raise funds for a shelter.

This aroused the suspicions of residents as they did not look the part.

Residents have also filed complaints against the tenants in the unit for the foul stench from poor ventilation and littering, particularly cigarette butts, after they could no longer stand the smell and the rubbish outside.

It is learnt that several double-decker beds had also been moved into the unit to accommodate the large number of youths.

"I can't imagine how they lived in the unit. The youngest one I saw was a girl who looked like she was in primary school.

"Whenever there was a shouting match, it was always about money," said another resident.

Checks by The Star found that at least three warnings had been issued to the tenants, but these had fallen on deaf ears.

"The owner of the unit has been contacted at least twice," said a resident.

Selangor CID chief Senior Asst Comm Fadzil Ahmat said police were still investigating if the victims were brought in from Penang and urged the public to be alert when approached by beggars or those asking for donations.

"It is an offence under Section 3 (2) of the House to House and Street Collections Act 1947 if they fail to produce a permit.

"At the district level, the permit is issued by the police chiefs while the Inspector-General of Police's approval is needed for any fund collection nationwide," SAC Fadzil said.

Penang deputy police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Roslee Chik said a check with their counterparts in Selangor showed that none of the victims were from the state.