Former top cop recalls close ties with The Star


Miracle amid tragedy: Zaman is seen here at the scene of the Highland Towers tragedy in December 1993 when a baby was rescued alive from the rubble and handed to him.

AS George Town wound down for the night, Tan Sri Mohd Zaman Khan would be at No. 62, Weld Quay. That was the office of The Star in 1971.

It was his favourite place to spend the wee hours.

He liked watching the production staff fold copies of The Star, sheet by sheet. It was a manual, labour-intensive task.

“Even though I was OCPD, I had a habit of making night rounds myself. Weld Quay back then was actually a hot zone, with many smuggling activities.

“That was why I stopped by your office in the dead of the night so many times to watch your printers at work, ” reminisced Zaman, who was then George Town OCPD.

“It was the newspaper’s first ever office. I was even invited to the opening ceremony in 1971.”

And if there were still reporters milling around at the time, he would surely chat with them.

Loyal reader: Zaman reading the first issue of The Star. He still reads the newspaper front to back every day. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The StarLoyal reader: Zaman reading the first issue of The Star. He still reads the newspaper front to back every day. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star

“In the era before the Internet, it was vital to befriend reporters. You learn a lot about what’s happening in society through them, ” he said.

Thus, he described reading The Star “front to back every day” as a necessity for him and many others in Penang.

“The Star was different right from the beginning. The layout was more modern. There were many more stories about happenings in Penang. And it was a tabloid, so it was easier to hold, ” Zaman reminisced.

Back in the day, English newspapers in Penang such as the now defunct National Echo were broadsheets, which were vertically longer and offered lengthy “serious” stories.

Now 80, Zaman has had an illustrious career, being in the thick of action in many of Malaysia’s historic criminal cases.

He was the deputy operations commander of the team that tackled the 1975 Japanese Red Army situation in Kuala Lumpur when terrorists took more than 50 hostages.

Shared experiences: Zaman (left) led the hunt for four escaped convicts and recaptured them at Mt Erskine. This photo of Zaman was taken by Ng Ah Bak of The Star, who was the first photographer to arrive on the scene. It was part of a series that won him the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) Penang Press Photographer of the Year Award in 1982.Shared experiences: Zaman (left) led the hunt for four escaped convicts and recaptured them at Mt Erskine. This photo of Zaman was taken by Ng Ah Bak of The Star, who was the first photographer to arrive on the scene. It was part of a series that won him the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) Penang Press Photographer of the Year Award in 1982.

And he was involved in shootouts with gangsters like Botak Chin (Wong Swee Chin) in the 1970s and Bentong Kali (P. Kalimuthu) in the early 1990s.

Zaman was OCPD in five districts, the police chief in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and held several director positions in Bukit Aman.

His last public post before retirement in 1997 was as commissioner-general of the Prisons Department.

But one episode in his crime-busting career was so memorable that the photo of that adventure is now on public display at The Star’s Penang office in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

It features an image of a young Zaman when he was Penang police chief, standing over the prison escapees.

“They escaped from Penang Prison and were at large for about a week. We guarded the ferry terminal. Penang Bridge was not yet open, so we knew the fugitives were still somewhere on the island.”

Then he recalled that he had a friend “with a rambutan problem”.

His friend, who was living in a village in Mount Erskine, had complained about rambutans disappearing from his tree.

“It was something about the way he said it that made me smell a rat. I gathered men to comb the cemetery grounds at Mount Erskine, ” he said.

Zaman said he did not tell the press about it “but reporters have spies in the police force”.

Thus, photographer Ng Ah Bak of The Star (who retired as the Penang bureau chief photographer) captured that historic photo. Ng was the only pressman present at the time there.

“When I found out my photo is displayed outside your office, I went to Penang to take pictures of it. One European tourist saw me and asked me about it.

“She was delighted when I said the man in the photo was me. She enjoyed the story of how my team caught the prison escapees, ” he said.

These days, one of his favourite pastimes is spending time with his 21 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

And he still reads The Star every day.

Log on to our dedicated website, 50.thestar.com.my to find out more about our special anniversary activities and highlights for readers.

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