Stop organised crime profiting from political unrest

Datuk Fazli Nordin

KUCHING: The country’s political uncertainties and economic issues caused by the pandemic are benefiting organised crime, especially those involved in illicit trade and smuggling activities.

Retail and Trade Brands Advocacy Malaysia Chapter (RTBA Malaysia) director Datuk Fazli Nordin said studies have shown a clear correlation between political instability and increased activities perpetrated by organised crime, citing a report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime entitled ‘Crime and Instability’.

“Naturally, criminals benefit when governments take their eyes off security and enforcement issues while at the same time neglecting economic challenges,” he said.

He mentioned that Malaysia’s political unrest has not reached a critical stage yet, but nevertheless, there was already an uptick in illicit trafficking activities in recent months, especially in the smuggling of illegal cigarettes.

“Organised criminal syndicates are bringing in massive amounts of illegal cigarettes from other countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam, via large cargo vessels, stopping just short of the Malaysian borders.

“A smart operation involving foreigners and local cohorts will then bring these cigarettes in through our porous coastlines to be distributed throughout Malaysia.” 

He said the most worrying element of this entire black market operation was the revelation of crime bosses or mafia-like don (boss) who sit at the top of the criminal organisation chart controlling all aspects of this multi-billion illegal business.

“Although our law enforcement agencies are well aware of who exactly these dons are, could it be that action could not be taken because our leaders and policymakers are constantly distracted playing game of thrones?” he asked.

Fazli added that allowing smuggling dons to operate would undermine the rule of law and establish a vicious cycle that could lead to a de facto failed state.

“Organised criminal syndicates welcome political instability and will be more than willing to facilitate a dysfunctional government through corruption. Moreover, stretched incomes and high unemployment rates will also mean more consumers turning to smuggled products that are untaxed and unregulated,” he said.

Thus, he said, it was becoming more important for all our leaders and policymakers to come together to cohesively push through bold and tangible policies that drive economic recovery and prevent unnecessary leakages.

“Political will goes a long way towards meaningful progress. We have seen clever policies put in place in the 2021 Budget having an impact on the illegal cigarettes trade in the early stages.

“But organised crime is now making a comeback. As such, the government must be decisive in maintaining the excise moratorium and address the price gap between legal and illegal cigarettes to make it unprofitable for criminals,” he stressed.

Simultaneously, he said enforcement agencies must be empowered with all the tools and policies they require to go after the smuggling dons effectively.

RTBA Malaysia Chapter is a subdivision of RTBA, headquartered in Victoria, Australia. It is a coalition of business, retailers and trademark holders working to protect the retail and supplier industries in the Asia-Pacific region from the impact of criminal conduct.