By Murray Hunter
Several months ago, Hunter made many serious allegations about corruption in the halal meat business, but ministers and Jakim officials denied wrongdoing. In November 2020, the NST exposed the tainted meat scandal, with more allegations about officials being paid off and the complicity of many people in government departments. Will there be more cover ups or will the authorities finally act on these allegations?
Corrupt bureaucrats and industry collaborators have compromised halal integrity for more than 270 million Muslim consumers across Asia and around the world who are eating meat that has been falsely certified as having been butchered in compliance with religious standards. Authorities in at least three countries are seemingly too timid to take on powerful religious authorities, and their superiors in supreme religious councils have also looked the other way.
Whistle-blowers and media including Asia Sentinel in a two-year series of articles have highlighted extensive abuse of power, collusion, corruption, mismanagement, and racketeering within the halal industry. Reports have exposed halal protocol malpractices and worker exploitation in slaughtering and processing in Australia. Stories of meat substitution and false halal labeling on non-halal meat have been made public in Malaysia.
There is an ongoing inquiry triggered by Asia Sentinel by authorities in Singapore over abuse of power, favoritism, and racketeering at the foreign accreditation and certification level, and allegations of stand-over tactics and bullying by government employees on local businesses. There are allegations of extortion and racketeering in Indonesia that point straight to the political elite, and in Malaysia, there is evidence of a cover-up of halal corruption that goes as high as one of the Royal Families.
The recent halal meat substitution fraud scandal reported in Malaysia isn’t surprising to those who know the dark side of Malaysian business. The Kuala Lumpur-based newspaper New Straits Times alleged that a cartel is behind bringing in horse and kangaroo meat and passing it off as halal beef. The NST alleged that members of this cartel paid off officials of Royal Malaysian Customs, the Veterinary Services Department (DVS), the Malaysian Quarantine and Inspection Service (MARQIS), and the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) with money and sex. These reports were initially brushed aside by the minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Zulkifli Mohamed Al-Bakri and JAKIM, but strong public outrage led the police to arrest two company directors of a Johor-based company Raihanah Cold Storage Sdn. Bhd.
Fake and counterfeit grocery items and staples have been a feature of the Malaysian market for years, according to a Kuala Lumpur based supermarket manager. Cheap Indian buffalo meat is imported into Malaysia and mixed with higher beef cuts and sold as much more expensive halal Australian, New Zealand, or US beef. A number of groups are allegedly involved in this repackaging, which has gone on unchallenged for years by authorities.
Allegations about improprieties within the halal slaughter protocols and processes at abattoirs in Australia on meat destined for Malaysia and Singapore, reported by Asia Sentinel in December 2019. An official complaint to Australian Authorities, recorded interviews, and a number of abattoir slaughtermen provided statutory declarations to Asia Sentinel described major breaches in halal integrity under the supervision of Mohamed Adil Rahman, who is employed by the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australia, or Sichma. These recordings and testimonies outlined and described how carcasses that were haram were passed off as being halal by removing non-halal tags and changing them to halal on the processing line.
Further, situations in abattoirs known as “downers” or emergency kills which render the animal dead and considered haram were mislabeled as halal. This included animals whose skulls were cracked open during stunning, which should also have been labelled as non-halal. In addition, the contract slaughtermen’s’ wages were withheld to pay “donations” and taxes, holiday pay, hardship living allowances, and superannuation by Mohamed Adil Rahman. Slaughtermen were denied medical leave and not allowed to make medical claims.
One supervisor provided Asia Sentinel with a statutory declaration that said: “I have unknowingly been in a system that involved sham employment contracts, tax fraud, and black economy activity that was planned, committed, and masterminded by Mohamed Adil Rahman using the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat Australia Inc. (Sichma) as a certifier, which I refused to be part of anymore.”
The above allegations were never investigated by either the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) or JAKIM. In fact, officials from both JAKIM and MUIS openly appear to support Sichma as their preferred certification body in Australia, over others, which have been delisted. Sirajuddin Suhaimee, a senior Jakim official, supported Sichma over the allegations after he met privately with Sichma officials, saying he intended to “make SICHMA the best CB (certifying body) in Australia (see video link).”
Malaysia’s Halal Malaise
Asia Sentinel published a number of articles alleging and outlining corruption within JAKIM. The first set off a firestorm of protest from JAKIM and other government officials, whose Director-General at the time, Mohamed Nordin Ibrahim, claimed that the allegations were baseless and slanderous, ruled out any investigation and condemning Asia Sentinel. Mohamed Nordin’s statements were later supported by Fuziah Salleh, then deputy minister for religion in the Prime Ministers’ Department and a member of parliament representing Kuantan. The former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department overseeing JAKIM, Mujahid Yusof claimed allegations of corruption were baseless and demanded that Asia Sentinel provide proof of corruption within JAKIM so an internal investigation could be made, rather than allowing the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate, as is the usual case in corruption cases.
Zarizal Ahmad, who is listed on the official MACC website as the Assistant Commissioner and head of the Investigation School, claimed that corruption in JAKIM is not new. He has received a number of complaints personally as an officer, he said, but added that the MACC has held off making any investigations on the halal certification process. JAKIM is well wired into Malaysia’s Islamic establishment, making it so far immune to prosecution.
Late in 2019, the former minister claimed that imposters rather than JAKIM officials were responsible for corruption in the certification process. Sources who asked to remain nameless for fear of retribution, however, told Asia Sentinel that Fuziah had been made aware of allegations against Sirajuddin but was seeking an honorable way out for the director rather than put him under investigation.
Last year Sirajuddin was quietly moved out of his halal portfolio into a research portfolio, according to JAKIM’s current organization chart. However, publicly Sirajuddin appears to still be very active within the halal portfolio. Every individual seeking to investigate Sirajuddin, has been removed from power. Former JAKIM director-general Wan Mohamed Sheikh Abdul Aziz, was given immediate early retirement when he proposed an investigation. Hasnol Zam Ahmad, then a director within the prime minister’s department, was also prevented from doing so. Anonymous sources in Putra Jaya told Asia Sentinel that Sirajuddin enjoys patronage from a member of a royal family, who he assisted in entering the halal certification business in China some years back.
MUIS has held two inquiries into allegations of corruption made public by Asia Sentinel. The final report has not been made public by either MUIS or the Singapore government. The only visible development is a press release by MUIS exonerating themselves from any corrupt practices and wrongdoing.
However, flaws within the inquiry process have come to the attention of social activist Mohamed Jufrie Mahmud, who has posted many documents on his Facebook page that were submitted as evidence to the inquiry that cast doubt on their findings. In addition, Jufrie states that none of the complaining FCBs who made detailed submissions to the inquiry were interviewed.
The MUIS press release indicates that the Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), and the police are still investigating the allegations. It is understood, that the MUIS officer at the center of allegations was quietly promoted to executive director of a wholly-owned MUIS subsidiary, MMW Shared Services Pte Ltd. None of the allegations that Asia Sentinel published about domestic market corruption have been investigated.
Donations for Mosques Indonesia
There have been reports of organized halal corruption in Indonesia going back more than 17 years. Allegations of corruption were made against Amidham Shanerah, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), which handled halal certifications until 2017. Many Australian certifying bodies allegedly paid travel expenses and gave donations to organizations like the Good Deeds for the Hereafter Foundation (GALA), and a mosque bearing the name of the current vice president Maruf Amin. Those who gave donations obtained accreditation.
In 2014, the local Indonesian news magazine Tempo published a wide corruption. The Brisbane based Australian Halal Food Services (AHFS) told Tempo they had paid bribes to senior MUI officials to renew their license to certify meat halal in Australian abattoirs. In 2019, the international Halal journal Salam Gateway published further allegations of corruption and extortion by a senior official in Indonesia’s halal certification authority to foreign certifying bodies to renew their licenses. Salam Gateway named Lukmanul Hakim, head of MUI Assessment Institute for Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics (LPPOM) as the perpetrator.
An owner/manager of a European halal certifying company contacted Asia Sentinel and said that paying “consulting fees” to MUI nominees was standard practice for accreditation to MUI. Payment would bring accreditation. Non-payment would mean the company would not be listed. The owner/manager of the HCB said that the senior management of MUI inferred their group went right up to the top of Indonesian polity, where any complaint to the police, or other local authorities would be met with retribution.
Truly Asian Collaboration
Another abattoir supervisor in a statutory declaration supplied to Asia Sentinel alleged that Mohamed Adil Rahman had used his influence to remove Australia Halal Food Services (AHFS) from accreditation as suppliers to Jakim and Majilis Ugama Islam Singapora (MUIS), which plays a similar role in Singapore to Jakim in Malaysia. Mohamad Adil Rahman, he said, also worked to have the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria (ICCV) removed from Jakim accreditation as. “ICCV had disobeyed him. Three weeks later looking full of pride he told me ‘it’s’ done. I removed ICCV from the Malaysia and Singapore list.’ The following week, a notice from Malaysia and thereafter Singapore, came confirming Mohamed Adil Rahman’s statement.”
The Director-General of JAKIM has been approached repeatedly by Asia Sentinel for an interview. A reply five months after the last request by Zakaria Othman, Head of the Corporate Communication Unit stated, “Thank you for your email dated 12th February 2020 with your concern on the halal issue in our country. Indeed, JAKIM will continue our services pertaining to Malaysia Halal Certifications, for the betterment of both Muslim and Non-Muslim globally. However, your request to get information which regards to an article about JAKIM’s Halal Hub, we really appreciate it, but for the meantime, JAKIM is not interested.”
In Singapore, the minister responsible for Islamic matters Masagos Zulkifli was contacted in vain several times. Both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and MUIS have refused to make public a copy of the final halal inquiry report. Abdul Hamid Abdullah, Chairman of the Independent Review Panel on Halal corruption allegations at MUIS contacted Asia Sentinel claiming incorrect and misleading reporting in our article dated 6th November, but has never responded to our refutation.
As of the time of writing, all government officials accused of impropriety remain uncensured, leaving real questions about halal integrity.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
Hunter’s article was first published in Asia Sentinel on 26 January 2021,
Murray Hunter is a retired professor, and professional runner, who spent the last 30 years in South East Asia, as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, author and researcher, whose speciality is in community development and biotechnology.