Monday, December 31, 2007
The Star - 30/12/2007
International drug syndicates are targeting young Malaysian women to be their mules overseas, but their con is becoming more and more difficult to detect.
FOR many, it was too good to resist. A job with a “multinational” in a ritzy office, cool boss, good money and travel opportunities – how lucky can a fresh graduate get?
However, as a few young Malaysians recently discovered, the dream can easily turn into a nightmare. The bright future instantly dimmed as they find themselves languishing in foreign jails or biding time until their execution under another country's law.
Umi Azlim Mohamad Lazim, a 24-year-old graduate of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, could not believe her luck when she saw the high-paying courier job advertised on the Net early this year. She was caught at Shantou airport in China with 2,983gms of heroin in her luggage, and has been sentenced to death.
Neither could Raja Munirah Raja Iskandar, 22, a mass communication student in a private college in Cyberjaya, who travelled to Japan to be interviewed for a well-paid job last year, as recommended by her Iranian friend.
Her “helpful” friend even bought her a travelling bag and winter clothes, which he passed to her just before she departed. This proved to be a costly gift as Raja Munirah was later caught in the Narita International Airport with drugs in her locked luggage. Charged with trafficking in 690gm of Syabu, she is now serving a seven-year-and-one-month jail term in Kosuke Detention Centre, Tokyo.
Previously, most drug traffickers played on women's emotions with promises of love to get them to do their dirty jobs. The “casanovas” usually lured these women by showering them with expensive gifts before sending them off on all-expense paid holidays to foreign destinations, where they were requested to pass a gift to a friend or relative.
These days, many drug syndicates prey on the MTV generation's need for instant gratification and materialistic aspirations, with the quick buck and high-flying lifestyle the common carrots.
“Unfortunately, many of our young are easily conned because they are simply too impatient to get rich and attain the high lifestyle they aspire to,” said lawyer Rosal Azimin Ahmad, who was hired by Raja Munirah's family to help defend her.
According to Tenaganita programme coordinator Aegile Fernandez, the problem is intensified by globalisation.
“Drug syndicates have become international with their members easily travelling in and out of Malaysia under the guise of tourists and students. Our work on trafficking has revealed that our borders are porous as it is easy for foreigners to enter the country and smuggle in drugs or weapons,” she alleged.
The modus operandi of drug syndicates has also become more insidious, added Rosal Azimin.
“It is a rich syndicate, so many can put up a rich cover like a good office while their members live and dress well. They can also afford to take time to gain not only their target's confidence but also the family and friends. Like in Raja Munirah's case, the Iranian man who conned her is close to her family, having been to their house many times.
“For work, sometimes it is not even a courier job, you might be hired for another job, and when you are settled in, maybe six months down the road, you might be sent on an overseas assignment. So, you can't really blame the girls who get duped for being stupid or careless,” he said.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong also believes that many of the young mules were duped and exploited by international drug syndicates.
“Some of these girls responded to job offers by international companies set up by Middle Easterners and Africans in Kuala Lumpur that put up job advertisements.
“The bosses would bring them for meetings with the so-called VIPs and even take them to meetings overseas.
“So, bringing documents and brief cases are natural and these girls do not know that the drugs were implanted inside.
“The girls were all innocent and they could pass through the watchful eyes of drug enforcers trained to observe people at the airport. They did not know that they were carrying drugs until their bags were screened. We must help them,” Chong said.
News reports revealed that in the past 11 months, about 32 Malaysian women in the 20 to 40 age group have been arrested for their involvement.
Women, Family and Community Development Ministry parliamentary secretary Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun argued that most of the time greed landed people into trouble.
She said no one would offer so much of money for an easy job.
“Therefore, Malaysians, especially young women, must not easily fall into such a trap, and trust strangers in a short period of time.”
Jobstreet.com vice-president (Marketing), Simon Si urged young jobseekers to always be careful and cautious when it comes to jobs that seem very lucrative (abnormally high salary) for very little effort.
“Such “dream” jobs rarely exist. The most important when accepting a job offer is to be absolutely sure about the company you will be working for and absolutely clear about your role and responsibility in that position,” he said.
He added it is crucial that they take the effort to do some background checks.
“The Internet is a good source to get information on companies. If the job is posted by a recruitment agency, a check with the Human Resource Ministry can help to determine if the agency is properly licensed. If it is a company, its record would be with the Registrar of Companies,” he said, adding that looking for a job through established recruitment companies such a JobStreet.com is much safer as they will have a verification measure in place.
He explained, at Jobstreet , jobs that are posted with insufficient information on type of job and requirements will be highlighted by the system, hence it will be checked and if the information provided is not satisfactory the job does not get posted.
“If jobseekers are called for an interview, they should take the effort during the job interview to learn more about each other for the purpose of filling a position within an organisation,” said Si, adding that if it is suspicious, the job offer should be turned down.
A graphic artist in her mid-thirties who only wanted to be known as Reena relayed her experience of being offered a courier job for a foreign NGO in the Middle East in one of the social networks on the Internet.
“At first it seemed harmless enough as the job is to deliver relief supplies to disaster and war torn areas. Then I got suspicious about why the organisation had to recruit people through the Internet, and started asking questions.”
She became more suspicious when she was told that she would not be allowed to open and check the packages.
“I kept egging him and his breaking point came when I asked why they did not use courier service for the deliveries and he just snapped back that if I was not interested, there are many others who need the money willing to do the job,” she said.
She added, however, that she might have jumped at the opportunity without a thought if she had been younger and more naive.
Young girls the target
Prominent lawyer Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who defended the case of Ruzana Zubir who was arrested in Australia for smuggling 5kg of opium last year, believes that many of the Malaysian girls who were caught were naive.
“Young girls with not much experience travelling overseas are certainly not aware of the kind of complications that they can get into right from the time they a board a plane and land at foreign airports,” he said.
Muhammad Shafee said in the case of Ruzana, it was proven without doubt that she was not aware of the nature of substances she was carrying.
Ruzana who was arrested on April 1, 2005 after Australian customs officers seized a tar-like block wrapped in tape from her luggage when she arrived in Sydney. She was later freed and acquitted by an Australian court of the charge.
Chew urged the police to find the root cause. “If it is the foreigners, try to arrest them to ensure the culprits do not get off scott- free.”
“We at the ministry level will discuss on what can be done to ensure young women do not get cheated by foreigners, until they end up in prison,” she added.
One area that needed attention is the dissemination of information on the dangers, said Fernandez.
“In the past there were many campaigns and posters to raise awareness on the dangers of getting duped into drug trafficking. That has stopped,” she said.
Fernandez stressed that a problem was that the authorities are not doing enough to nab the big players – the syndicates.
“We are nabbing the addicts and the couriers but more needs to be done to catch the syndicates' big bosses,” she said.
Muhammad Shafee agreed, “Many of them were targeted by foreigners, where the initial contact is made in Malaysia, and I believe that the police should unravel the people behind the syndicate.”
Reports by LEE YUK PENG, MANJIT KAUR, ANDREW SAGAYAM and HARIATI AZIZAN
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