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A syndicate with strong ties with the Johor Lands and Mines Office (PTG) and the underworld has been identifying idle plots of land belonging to foreigners in Malaysia before "converting" and selling them for huge profits.
The syndicate, which has been operating for some time, has so far sold several plots belonging to wealthy Singaporeans and Indonesians for more than RM15million (S$4 million).
However, Johor police got wind of their activities and have so far arrested three suspects in their 30s and 50s, including a former administrative assistant with the PTG in Nusajaya, in a series of raids over the past few days.
Sources said the former officer, who had been with the department for more than 10 years, was recently transferred to another government agency.
The two other suspects, claiming to be land brokers, were members of a notorious criminal gang and with prior records, including for a murder.
All the suspects are being held under the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca), reports The Star.
Johor police chief Comm Datuk Seri Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd, when contacted, confirmed the arrests but declined to elaborate on the investigation.
He urged those with information to contact the police hotline at 07-221 2999.
It is learnt that police have seized dozens of empty security documents used to print land titles, believed to have been stolen, from a strongroom at the PTG office in Nusajaya.
Sources said that the syndicate used the land office staff to identify plots of land around the city belonging to foreigners, which have been abandoned for some time.
"The suspects then used the security documents to print the new owner's name on the land titles to change ownership before filing the documents at PTG.
"With the new land title, they would go around trying to sell to potential owners," the sources said.
The syndicate, they said, had gone to elaborate lengths to carry out their illegal activities, including waiting up to several years to change some of the land details.
It also produced fake passport numbers of the landowners, commissioner for oaths' seals and legal documents to convince the PTG and their potential buyers, the sources added.
Their scam was detected when a lawyer acting on behalf of his client suspected something amiss in the sale of a piece of land costing several million ringgit in Gelang Patah.
The lawyer then contacted the Singaporean owner, who apparently had no knowledge of the sale nor the intention to sell the land.
The owner lodged a police report recently.
It is learnt that the state commercial crimes investigation department has formed a special team to investigate the case and uncovered several cases involving the syndicate.
It is also checking to ascertain if the syndicate was involved in other cases nationwide.