PUTRAJAYA, May 9 — Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar was fully aware of the existence of the illegal transit camps and mass graves of emigrants in Wang Kelian, Perlis at least since January 2015, journalist Aliza Shah Muhammad Shah told a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the matter today.
The 24th witness said she sought the then inspector-general of police after receiving certain unverified information about the camps and that the latter had admitted knowing about their existence.
“I sent him WhatsApp messages to ask him to verify certain information we had gotten which showed the police had known about the camps existence in January.
“When he didn’t respond, my editor at the time Farrah Naz Karim, found out he was at a bowling alley and I went there to catch him. When I approached him, he asked me if I was recording him and promptly told me to turn my phone off.
“After I did, he told me he did not want to reply my WhatsApp messages for fear I would screenshot his response and pass it on to the masses. I then told him I have documentation that showed the police had knowledge of the camps and needed him to verify this.
“That’s when he said yes, he did know about the camps in January but he did not reveal it because they had an agreement with Thai officials who wanted to blow the case open first.
“He then said don’t write anything as it will upset them,” Aliza said in her testimony on the eighth day of the RCI hearing.
The journalist was part of a special investigative unit at New Straits Times in 2015 when the news broke in May that same year. She is now with The Star Media Group.
Both Aliza and her former NST colleague Farrah Naz Karim had written multiple news reports about the Wang Kelian camps.
Farrah Naz, formerly NST senior news editor, who testified as the RCI’s 23rd witness before Aliza, said she found many of Khalid’s answers during press conferences regarding Wang Kelian dissatisfactory.
She related that during her investigations, she one day received a set of documents delivered anonymously to her father’s house where she was living then that contained the names of people arrested in connection with Wang Kelian, but whom the police later released.
She said the documents suggested a wider scale cover-up within the police force, adding that there were descriptions claiming Khalid lied when he denied knowledge of the mass graves in the early days.
Farrah Naz said she was unsettled when the police classified the case as sudden death even though investigations weren’t complete at that stage.
“What I and my team were trying to do is find out why there was this alleged cover-up,” Farrah Naz said.
“The documents I received had three to four reports on the discovery of the camps and graves in January. It was too good to be fake and even had pictures.
“I had also received anonymous calls and tips from various sources and all the information I got were verified by these documents.”
Farrah Naz also questioned the big show by the police in announcing the despatch of a commando squad of 300 Very Able Troopers (VAT) to locate the graves in Malaysia’s northern border with Thailand in May 2015.
“I called some of those VAT commandos and they either had no clue of what I was talking about. Some were angry that someone would say they were afraid of booby-traps,” she recalled.
“We were wondering why the IGP was lying even though they had names of suspects involved in the case. In the end they said there wasn’t enough information and dropped the case.
“We feel the IGP was lying a lot and there are plenty of question marks still surrounding this case,” she added.
Both Aliza and Farrah Naz said they wished something had been done sooner which might have prevented the loss of more lives.
In 2015, the nation was shocked with the discovery of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps at the peak of Bukit Wang Burma in Wang Kelian located at the Malaysian-Thai border.
Beginning April 16, the RCI which was set up with the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Jan 29, was being held at the Home Ministry’s Dewan Gemilang here which had been improvised as a court.
The RCI is chaired by former chief justice Tun Arifin Zakaria and assisted by former inspector-general of police Tan Sri Norian Mai, along with six others.