THE most highly publicised crimes these days are not robberies or murders but money laundering, scams, tender rigging, corruption and financial manipulation.
Throwing the rule book out the window, the police must now investigate complex crimes involving criminals of a different kind.
Many are politicians and corporate figures highly qualified and well acquainted with the law. Yet somehow, they still got caught.
Financial crime in the last few decades has increasingly unsettled governments worldwide.
The prevalence of economically motivated crime is no doubt a serious threat to the development of economies and stability. In fact, it has even crumbled governments.
The obvious case is 1MDB, which robbed Malaysia of a colossal amount of money and made our country an international disgrace.
Almost every financial crime, in whatever guise, now has a titled person connection.
Many of these crooks obviously used their positions to participate in activities that dishonestly generate wealth. These crimes aren’t just simple corrupt practices. Some even happen in the boardroom, where exploiting insider information or acquiring another person’s property by deceit is practiced for securing material wealth, reveals the International Compliance Association.
“... there are also financial crimes that do not involve the dishonest taking of a benefit, but that protects a benefit that has already been obtained or to facilitate the taking of such benefit. An example of such conduct is where someone attempts to launder criminal proceeds of another offence in order to place the proceeds beyond the reach of the law, ” it says.
Enforcement agencies and regulators, including the police, the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Agency, Securities Commission and now the Malaysia Competition Commission, are at the forefront of the battle with these financial foes.
The police and MACC have requested more budget and staff. They need officers who understand accountancy, economics and corporate law.
When a syndicate headed by a Datuk got smashed for cornering RM3.8bil in government projects since 2014, it exposed the scale of corruption in procurement exercises.
The mastermind reportedly controlled over 150 companies that were rotated to submit tenders and quotations to government agencies.
It’s hard not to be tempted by these profit-sharing jobs when the contract includes getting a luxury car and driver thrown in, club memberships and entertainment accounts.
But for the good guys, muscle alone won’t help in apprehending devious corporate figures who know all about shell companies and, manipulating accounts and hiding vital details.
Unfortunately, experts won’t join our authorities to thwart this malady because they can get better salaries and perks in the private sector. One can only fulfil national service up to a point.
Still, we need the expertise of officers who can understand the complexities of government projects, tenders and shell companies in this corruption menace.
MACC has a staff strength of only 2,800, the lowest among enforcement agencies in the country. A bigger budget is surely in order.
MyCC is still relatively unknown to most Malaysians, and even government officers, who are unaware of the concept of bid rigging. It has around 70 officers, 30 of which are investigators. News reports reveal that almost 3,000 bidders involved in tenders worth RM5.8bil are currently under scrutiny.
MyCC is now working closely with MACC on the recent cartel case. It actively carries out operations in many states, too. Its latest success is coming down on 90 companies engaged in tenders worth almost RM30mil.
The body also busted a bid rigging cartel colluding with seven IT companies in 2019. MyCC has been touring Malaysia since 2012 to advocate the dangers of bid rigging to the public and private sectors, while also publishing many guidelines for reference.
And to make its work that much more difficult, it also faces insufficient cooperation from certain groups to provide complaints, and is forced to deal with the lack of cooperation during inquiries and investigations. So, MyCC is due greater resources, too.
While it doesn’t strike the fear the police and MACC do, MyCC targets and investigates bidders and not the organisations which issued the tenders.
The beauty of MyCC’s system is that everything is handled under one roof. It investigates, decides and punishes the infringing enterprises in the bid rigging cartel, making it a quasi-judicial body.
MyCC has the authority to dispense with enterprises part of the bid rigging cartel and affect their finances through financial penalty. Without the companies and/or sufficient money, the owner(s) will not have a vehicle to rig or manipulate tenders. And MACC can penalise the person who accepts or offers the bribe, too.
MyCC can be as effective as MACC in plugging the leak of procurement in, not only government tenders, but also private tenders. It goes after enterprises which enter or manipulate the bidding process of a tender. MACC, on the other hand, focuses on elements of vertical corruption arrangement between the government officers and bidders.
Crime fighting is completely different these days, so our enforcers deserve all the support they can get. And with their hands so full, is there even time to tackle cybercrimes?
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.