Help's just a phone call away for these 'brothers'

SINGAPORE - For decades, criminals on the run in Singapore have often tried to flee to Malaysia, believing there is safe refuge there.

For just as long, many of them have been hauled back to face the law - thanks to the close ties between the police forces of both countries.

The killer of eight-year-old Huang Na, the infamous triad leader One-Eyed Dragon, and most recently, Kovan murder suspect Iskandar Rahmat were all arrested across the Causeway.

"In many ways, we are brother police forces, if not twins," Singapore's Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee told The Straits Times.

"Every time I meet (Malaysia's) Inspector-General of Police, I tell him, 'You are my best friend'".

That friendship stretches back to 1963, when the two forces were combined under the banner of the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP). Even when the Singapore police went their own way following the country's independence in 1965, ties remained close.

So close, in fact, that the top cops in each country sometimes dispensed with protocol.

Help was only a phone call away, said retired Singapore detective Lim Ah Soon.

Mr Lim, 68, worked closely with his Malaysian counterparts during his 24 years with the Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) then Organised Crime unit and Secret Society Branch.

In 1981, he was tracking an armed robber who had escaped to Ipoh, and quickly rang the Malaysian police for help.

"As we could not bring firearms into Malaysia, we had to rely totally on the Malaysian police to assist us in the arrest," he recalled.

"We went to where the robber was hiding, and helped to identify him before the Malaysian police made the arrest."

A Malaysian court later issued a warrant of extradition to bring the suspect back to Singapore.

"Malaysia is always the first stop to seek refuge," said Mr Lim. "Accomplices would pick up the suspects when they reach Malaysia and escape to another country."

The open channels of communication between both forces are crucial, said Commissioner Ng, "because every time something big happens, the guy is already over there when we find out who did it".

Both forces were tight-lipped about the operational details of recent cases. But a New Straits Times report last month on Iskandar's arrest said he was put on a "stop list" issued by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) through Interpol. All duty policemen in Johor were then alerted and briefed about the suspect's particulars and his vehicle.

The helping hand is extended both ways.

Malaysia's CID director, Datuk Hadi Ho Abdullah, told The Straits Times that the Singapore police have been helpful in many areas, including vehicle thefts.

"This year alone, through the intelligence from our Singaporean counterparts, we've recovered about 20 to 30 vehicles that were stolen," he said.

In May, the SPF launched an operation at Brani Terminal to intercept a suspected shipment of stolen Malaysian-registered trucks. That information was provided by the RMP, and resulted in the seizure of six trucks worth $197,000.

Said Datuk Hadi: "Our close ties make it efficient for work to be done, so when anything happens, it's a matter of making a phone call while working within permissible protocols."

Today, there are regular meetings between both forces - at the annual ASEAN Chiefs of Police Conference and at liaison meetings for their CID, commercial crime departments and coast guard units. Information, experiences, as well as training ideas, are shared on a regular basis. There is also the annual SPF-RMP Inter-Forces Games, where officers on both sides bond over sports.

Datuk Hadi said: "There's a common objective that we have, to make sure criminals will not feel safe in any of (our) countries."

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