27 November 2007

Customs officer in trouble over 'too long' leave


PUTRAJAYA: A Customs Department station head is facing disciplinary action after he went on leave for "too long".

The 56-year-old station head is based in a northern state and is due to retire next month.

Sources said he had been on leave since May and, in his absence, his officers in the smuggling prevention unit (UPP) had been crossing the Thai border without permission.

However, it is not known who had authorised the station head's long leave.

The matter came to light following the arrest of a 34-year-old Customs officer in Padang Besar last Wednesday for possession of a sub-machine gun and 283 rounds of ammunition.
The officer was believed to have smuggled in the weapon and ammunition from Thailand and had crossed the border without permission.

The officer had been posted to the border under the unit for the past few years and was due for a transfer soon.

Unit officers are usually transferred out after serving for three to five years.

The officer, previously based at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, was transferred to the unit because of an alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

Other forms of action were not taken as there was not enough evidence.

The detained officer had been with the department for about 10 years.

Customs director-general Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid said he was expecting a full report on the absence of the station head on Monday.

He said under normal circumstances, retiring officers who wanted to take leave would be replaced by other officers. "However, I will have to wait until Monday to get a clearer picture of the matter before taking any action."

Sources also said there was a possibility that the unit officers had no problems crossing the border due to their "close ties" with other enforcement officers manning the checkpoint. "They usually just wave their hands," a source said.

It is also understood that 10 Customs personnel under the unit would be transferred. The transfer order would be endorsed by Rahman later this week.

Rahman had said last Saturday that the officers would be transferred for suspicious behaviour, including crossing the border without permission.

Although there was no evidence of criminal activity, their movements were considered suspicious enough to warrant a transfer.

Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Mohd Johari Baharum had said that officers manning the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complexes at the Malaysian-Thai border would be rotated regularly from now on.

This is to prevent them from becoming too friendly with those who frequently cross the border.

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