KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 — Allegations of a giant network selling imported meat passed off as halal with the help of corrupt government officials from multiple agencies triggered widespread alarm in Muslim-majority Malaysia as 2020 wound to a close.
In a country where beef, chicken and mutton rendang are relished by all races, but especially over 60 per cent of the 32 million population, the possibility of having consumed “fake” halal meat is a big deal.
More so after news reports emerged that the meats sourced from abroad may have included kangaroo, horse and even pork. And that the practice had been going on for years, with some even claiming as long as four decades.
While these claims have since been debunked by the Islamic affairs minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, questions seeking transparency and accountability have been demanded of the key government agencies in charge of regulating food imports and halal certification.
These include the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), Veterinary Services Department (DVS), Malaysian Quarantine and Inspection Services Department (Maqis), Customs Department and port police.
A number of prominent public figures have also called for a royal inquiry and an overhaul of the regulators.
While investigations by the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP) are ongoing, here’s a chronology of events as they unfolded in the latest scandal to envelop Malaysia.
Malay daily Sinar Harian reported anonymous sources claiming that a freight company responsible for managing imported meat took the easy route and brought in frozen meat from countries that did not have the halal certification from Jakim.
According to the report, this practice had been going on for a few years. “Insiders” stationed at several ports that were the international gateway into Malaysia would turn a blind eye to the meat cargo brought in using falsified documents.
Sinar Harian followed up with a report detailing how a “cartel” was smuggling frozen meats from China, Ukraine, Brazil and Argentina and repacked using Malaysian halal logos for sale in markets across the country.
The cartel was uncovered during a warehouse raid by the authorities in Senai, Johor where 1,500 tonnes of imported frozen meat worth RM30 million was seized.
The report cited Maqis saying its investigations found the cartel was impersonating a well-known local frozen meat supplier. The Senai warehouse was allegedly its repacking hub where the goods would be stamped with falsified halal logos.
Islamic Affairs Minister Zulkifli denied receiving reports linking Jakim officers to the scandal.
KPDNHEP enforcement director Datuk Iskandar Halim Sulaiman similarly denied his officers were involved, adding that an internal probe was unnecessary as his ministry is not in charge of the import process.
New Straits Times reported anonymous sources claiming senior government officers from at least four agencies were aiding the cartel. The English language daily was also the first to report the practice to be ongoing for over 40 years, and that officials were offered cash and women for sexual services to ignore the cartel’s activities.
The Johor MACC began its investigation on the same day.
KPDNHEP joins in investigations. Its minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi said it has a local company in its scope for two trade description offences.
Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki demanded the government form a special task force to address the scandal.
Zukifli’s deputy Ahmad Marzuk Shaary announced stricter enforcement of the government's standard operating procedures for halal certification of imported goods.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim joined calls for a thorough investigation into the cartel, calling the smuggling of meat passed off as halal an “immoral activity”. He said it is a wake-up call for everyone, including the government, to step up the fight against corruption as it has tarnished the image of Islamic halal regulators.
Zulkifli Mohamad said Jakim will issue a list of licensed meat importers to assuage public concern about the halal status.
DAP’s Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim called for a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the cartel, saying the larger issue concerned food quality and safety as problematic products, including diseased meats could be brought into Malaysia if the regulators were not doing their job properly.
Umno Youth filed a police report on the smuggled meat, calling for a joint investigation with the police and MACC so action will be sped up.
Jakim comes under fire from all sides. The Malay Consultative Council demanded an overhaul of Jakim after accusing it of dereliction of duty in the issuance of halal certification to meat imports and Anwar castigates it for passing the buck to other government agencies when it is the sole authority that can certify halal products in the country.
KPDNHEP announces the formation of a legal and halal enforcement committee.
Jakim deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Abdul Aziz Jusoh said the department has prepared an action plan against smuggling in meat from non-certified countries and will present it in a meeting with KPDNHEP, Maqis and Customs on January 5.
Bukit Aman said the cartel operatives were not only locals but part of an international ring, based on the size of the seizure in the Senai raid.
Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Rosol Wahid clears Malaysia’s three largest frozen meat suppliers — the Allana Group, Amroon and Al-Aali — from the scandal, guaranteeing all their products are halal.
The government charges two directors of a Johor Baru-based frozen meat company, Raihanah Cold Storage Sdn Bhd, with falsifying halal logos on its transport vehicles.
The accused, Rahman Sheik Abdullah, 44, and his wife Raihanah Kasim, 42, claimed trial in the Sessions Court. Judge Mohamad Haidar Abdul Aziz allowed them bail of RM40,000 each with one surety, pending mention of the case on January 19.