- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysia’s government has fired 15 immigration officers it says helped international syndicates sabotage online passport checks for years, allowing some travelers to move freely in and out of the country.

Suspicions were raised by frequent collapses of the online system at the country’s main international airport that is linked to Interpol’s lost and stolen passport database.

Immigration Director-General Sakib Kusmi said in a statement Tuesday that the sabotage likely started in 2010 and was led by foreign agents.

He told reporters that the accused officers helped syndicates hack the system and that the breach could have facilitated human trafficking or allowed militants to travel undetected.

He said in addition to the firings, administrative action was taken against 22 other officers. The investigation is ongoing.

“The sabotage activity became worse in the last three years as it involved national security and caused the government to incur losses in the millions,” Sakib said in the statement. He didn’t elaborate. An immigration official declined to give details.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Wednesday that only non-approved immigrants slipped through undetected at the airport as a result of the breach.

Zahid, who is also home minister, was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama while on a visit in Tokyo that no terrorists slipped through and those involved in the sabotage were not linked to any terrorist activities.

He said security will be stepped up at all entry points in the country to ensure such breaches do not occur again.

National deputy police chief Noor Rashid Ibrahim told local media Wednesday that a local syndicate colluded with international syndicates in the immigration sabotage.

Noor Rashid said police have identified a Malaysian as the local mastermind and several others involved in the sabotage and would make arrests soon.

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