KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A Malaysian man faces up to 35 years in prison for smuggling 12 people from Myanmar into the country, while his two sons and their maid pleaded not guilty to the crime, an official said Friday.
The four were the latest to be charged with human trafficking since June, when the U.S. State Department marked Malaysia as one of the world's worst offenders.
Sahaidi Salleh, a jobless man, pleaded guilty to trafficking nine adults and three children from Myanmar, said Mohamad Zaidi Che Morad, an immigration official in northern Kelantan state. Sahaidi's two sons, 19 and 21, and their maid, 25, pleaded not guilty and were expected to stand trial, he said.
Trafficking in children carries a minimum jail term of three years and maximum term of 20 years. Smuggling adults is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Sahaidi was imprisoned pending sentencing on Sept. 15, Mohamad Zaidi said. The other three were also jailed after failing to post bail of 11,000 ringgit ($3,100) each, he said. The Myanmar nationals were smuggled into the country across a river from neighbouring Thailand, Mohamad Zaidi said.
The group, including five ethnic Rohingyas and two ethnic Chin, were rescued from Sahaidi's house in Kelantan on Aug. 9 and are now staying in a shelter. They will not be charged with entering Malaysia illegally because they are considered victims of human trafficking. The youngest child is 2.
Mohamad Zaidi said investigations revealed they paid up to 2,000 ringgit ($570) each for the journey from Myanmar to Malaysia. Saihaidi received up to 500 ringgit ($141) per migrant. "We're still trying to investigate. It's a wide connection ... It's transnational," Mohamad Zaidi said, adding it was difficult to go after human traffickers in Thailand and Myanmar. He said the network also involved express bus operators in Malaysia who ferry the illegals.
The United States is reviewing Malaysia's efforts to fight human trafficking until October after it gave the Southeast Asian country a low ranking in this year's "Trafficking in Persons Report." Activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of people from Myanmar live illegally in Malaysia in addition to 140,000 legal Myanmar migrant workers. The United Nations refugee agency recognizes 43,500 as refugees. Many of those are Chin and Rohingya, who face discrimination in their home country because of their ethnicity and religion.