A SYMPTOM OF FAILED BANKING PRACTICES AND PERSONAL MORALITY IN AN INSATIABLE CONSUMER SOCIETY
“The trade of the petty usurer is hated with most reason: it makes a profit from currency itself, instead of making it from the process which currency was meant to serve. Their common characteristic is obviously their sordid avarice” … Aristotle Greek Philosopher.
They are called ‘loan sharks’ in the west, Yamikinyu in Japan, Sauekar in Mumbai or the Kabuli in Delhi. They are the Kabuli because of their Afghan origins.
Ah Long (derived from the Cantonese ‘大耳窿’ ) is a term used to describe loan sharks in places like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Operating illegally and most often under the patronage of unseen public officials and corrupt police, the Ah Longs are the product of age old Triad practices that originated in the courts of the medieval clans and warlords who preyed on the poor and thrived on debt slavery in pre Maoist China.
Today the Ah Long in Malaysia operates via the convenience of a wide network of third party mercenary thugs and corrupt off duty policemen.
The Chinese Triads today employ mainly Tamils and Indonesian thugs to execute ‘enforcement’ of debt obligations for them. Typically these thugs are from the ranks of displaced and desperately unemployed youth willing to do anything for a dollar.
A RECENT EXAMPLE OF THE TRIAD THIRD PARTY MERCENARY CULTURE
The Triads engage these unemployed displaced youth in much the same way the wife of murdered businessman Leong Kian Sheong is alleged to have used 3 Tamil assassins to carry out the brutal murders of Kian Sheong and his mistress, Vivien Wong.
Wong’s and Leong’s throats were cut from ear to ear. A ceremonial and symbolic act the hallmark of Triads. The prevalence of Triad activities wherever Chinese communities exist is common as it is pervasive, widespread and sinister. The Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore do not like the existence or the history and cultural origins of the Triads mentioned along racial lines. It is an embarrassment and a convenience rolled into one for the Chinese especially where offences like those of the murder of Leong Kian Sheong involved members of two non Malay ethnic groups in Malaysia, viz the Chinese and the Tamils.
WHO AND WHAT IS THE AH LONG?
The Ah Long is the loan shark who lends money to the vulnerable, the weak and the economically challenged. Typically their customers are people who are unable to obtain loans from scheduled banks and finance companies.
The Ah Long’s primary targets are inveterate gamblers, low and mid income families, the high level consumer and the asset rich cash poor sectors of communities of Malaysia and other south east Asian nations.
A ready made market exists in the upwardly mobile class of consumers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore in whose DNA can be found the genes of social climbers and the class conscious, whose ascendancy in society is acquired though financial gain and material possessions at any cost. Asians.
The Ah Long’s services are often spread by word of mouth and public notices. They boldly advertise in public in a style that deceptively borrows the language of licensed lenders and banks. As is the case with loan sharks in the west, in Japan, India and other places, the Ah Long is charcterised by the extraordinarily high interest rates he charges on short term loans unsecured and backed in redemption by the most unimaginable forms of violence and human degradation.
WHITE SLAVERY ORGAN TRAFFICKING AND THE AH LONG
“You have among you many a purchased slave Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,You use in abject and in slavish parts Because you bought them. Shall I say to you Let them be free, marry them to your heirs. Why sweat they under burdens?. . . You will answer The slaves are ours.’ So do I answer you.The pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought. ‘Tis mine, and I will have it.”
(IV.i.89–99) (The Merchant of Venice)
Corruption through infiltration of Australia’s immigration and customs services has finally come to the surface. A report published by the anti corruption commission of New South Wales in December 2012 revealed serious infiltration into the immigration service by mainly Chinese drug gangs from abroad.
The investigation resulted in the arrest of a number of officers serving at terminals in Sydney, Melbourne and two other major air and sea ports in Australia.
Statistics reveal an alarming number of young women from the communities of Chinese, Viet Namese, Thai, and Japanese migrants working off Ah Long debts as prostitutes in the west. Many would have arrived in their destinations as students, casual workers in restaurants or factories arranged by Ah Longs and their corrupt network of associates in these places.
On arrival these victims soon discover that the promises of the Ah Longs of a better life in their new destinations is nothing more than an inducement to a life of inescapable misery.
None of the Asian social welfare groups intervene. Not the Churches, not the NGO’s nor their ethnic community groups. It almost always falls on the conscience of the European hosts to assist and to redeem these victims and where possible to repatriate them in a dignified way.
FOREIGN MAIDS- AN AH LONG BUSINESS
Another variation to the Ah Long theme is the menace and tragedy of the house maid phenomenon sweeping all of the prosperous regions of Asia and the middle east.
A large majority of these so called “maids” the NGO communities support are in fact victims of debt slavery. They are often transported to places like Malaysia under the ‘legitimate’ cover of maid employment agencies in order to pay off debts. And perhaps negligently and unknowingly the Churches support and patronise this practice of keeping maids in places as Malaysia by lobbying for more of them to be imported into places like Malaysia.
The vexed and highly emotive issues of the abuse of maids raised by the Catholic church, women’s groups and Irene Fernandez in Malaysia has focused on the working conditions of these victims of a form of white slavery. But none of them have a focus or agenda for eradicating the source of its evils and the trade itself.
There has been no comment or policy initiative from the Church, Women’s interest organizations or from Irene Fernandez herself a lead spokesperson of an NGO at the forefront of this issue.
Other vile and criminal methods inflicted by Ah Longs to enforce repayment of their loans include, serious assaults, knee capping, literally being fed to trained Rottweiler dogs in their cages, rape and forced oral sex on the spouses and female children of borrowers.
The practice has been reported in and around the KL, Kelang, the Syah Alam corridor of Selangor state where Ah Long predators are most prolific in plying their trade. Johore and Perak are not far behind the if statistical data on the subject is to be believed.
POUND OF FLESH- LITERALLY
There are at least 24 reported cases of new born male children of borrowers in Peninsula Malaysia, being offered or forcibly taken by the Ah Long in satisfaction of an unpaid debt. These children are then sold into the lucrative black market for male children to childless couples abroad.
The most common use for young women in debt default situations with the Ah Long is more often in prostitution till a debt is paid off and that could mean forever.
A disturbing trend common in China and India and now emerging in Malaysia and Singapore is the collateral of body parts in satisfaction of a debt.
A Tamil woman in Malaysia is reported to have been lured into sacrificing one of her kidneys to a compatible recipient via a middle man the Ah Long in Kuala Lumpur. The actual details of the transaction were made known to us by members of a local evangelical church in Kuala Lumpur. The irony of the transaction is that the recipient of the kidney is also known to be from a family of worshippers at this same church.
The practice is widespread in many developing countries and is beginning to grow legs in Malaysia.
NGO IGNORANCE CHURCH COMPLICITY AND THE DETERRENCE OF SHAME
Much of data collected from the public on the Ah Long culture in Malaysia and Singapore has been collected by foreign researchers and agencies who are more trusted by victims than their local counterparts whose only concern appears to be scoring political points.
The NGO’s in Malaysia are perceived to have no depth, knowledge or genuine concern for the welfare of the weak in their societies. Victims have nowhere to go. The churches in Malaysia too are distracted by the political debates that have been raging there and have no time for the victims of Ah Longs.
There is a widespread culture of mistrust of public officials and anyone even remotely resembling a public official in Malaysia. When it comes to reporting crime it is known that ‘shame’ crimes where especially the chastity of a woman is likely to be called into question 90% of them go unreported.
The more powerful cultural deterrent and disincentive to reporting the Ah Long is the underlying sentiment of shame attached to being a borrower. A borrower from an Ah Long at that. And it is that sentiment that deters victims from coming forward. The social stigma attached to being in the debt of an Ah Long and its ugly consequences further discourages more public discussion on the subject and reporting of the offences of the Ah Long.
The Ah Long is classed as the biggest social menace in Malaysia and Singapore. It comes a close second to drugs and alcohol and is often credited by social workers for family break ups and suicides especially amongst young women. Women the biggest victims of the Ah Long experience in families. Its consequences are too diverse to fit into a sociologists limited pigeon hole for quick analysis.
THE LONG REACH OF THE AH LONG
There was a time when the Ah Long was the local hoodlum or grocer who had extra cash and a bit of muscle to lend to people in desperate need of money for a wedding or funeral expenses. The practice was condoned but it nonetheless received a degree of social acceptance in the wider community at a time when insurance and banking products did not cater for such contingencies as they do today.
Surprisingly for a country at the forefront of Sharia banking and finance and a Muslim country at that where religious doctrine eschews usury and forbids it as one of the cardinal sins and the root of all evil, Malaysia has one of the world’s highest incidences of the Ah Long experience.
The scourge of the Ah Long is growing unabated in all major cities of Malaysia and has spread its tentacles to the rural heartland of Malaysia. It has reached all levels of society and its spread is said to rival that of the evangelical Christian youth movements and multi level marketing.
Australian intelligence gathered from customs and immigration policing throughout Australia’s major ports of entry has identified the source of much of Malaysia’s illegal exports to Australia. Ranging from young and underaged women for prostitution to heroin and illegal stashes of cash carried into Australia, all of which invariably converge and intersect at that one point, The Ah Long.
STUDENTS & POLITICIANS
Large numbers of Malaysians go abroad to study each year. Amongst this crowd are those who enrol at foreign institutions of learning as students as a means of migrating abroad seeking better economic opportunities than those available to them in Malaysia.
There have been a number of arrests of students engaging in illegal activities in their host nations especially in places as Canada, the UK, Australia, the US. Non traditional destinations for commonwealth students like Holland, has featured in the spread of the Ah Long and its cultural base. Amsterdam, London and Vancouver have each witnessed an entrenched culture of the Triad develop like a rash in their midst over the past few decades.
In 1973, the Dutch government chartered a Sabena (Belgian Airlines) DC-10 to repatriate a plane load of Malaysian Chinese who they had rounded up, charged and convicted in Holland for various crimes ranging from trafficking in heroin marijuana, prescription medication, extortion protection rackets and prostitution.
It was then described by an Interpol officer as “the tip of a very large iceberg”. As alerts were issued for Chinese youth especially from Malaysia at various western entry points after the Holland incident in 1973, a tsunami of “students” slowly began their gradual and intense migration to these lucrative destinations to ply their illicit trades on behalf of the Ah Long.
Students today account for more than 50% of the illegals from Malaysia into the west caught, charged, tried and deported for various Ah Long related crimes. Most of these sent by the Ah Long through their vast network of travel & migration agents which includes a few lawyers in the destination countries and in Malaysia.
However the Ah Long’s most high profile couriers to date has been a Malaysian politician caught attempting to smuggle over a million dollars in cash into Australia. The politician in question was apprehended by alert security and customs officials at Brisbane airport two years ago. Sadly this politician is not alone.
In 1995 pioneering Australian Chinese heart surgeon Dr. Victor Chang was gunned down by two Malaysian Chinese gangsters in what police described as a failed extortion bid. What’s not publicly cavilled is the proposition that Dr. Chang had in the view of some been the victim of the Ah Long and their Triad organizations. It is believed Chang had refused to sell a part of his invention, an artificial heart to Triad “investors” who had approached him in private to invest. The consequence of that refusal is now deeply embedded in the psyche of many Australians.
Whether there is any truth to that story with Dr. Chang is hard to tell. But to ridicule the proposition is foolhardy considering the extents to which Ah Longs and their Triad organizations have historically gone in the past in pursuit of money through extortion.
The Triads thrive in Sydney openly displaying many of their traits at restaurants in the water front and with the open soliciting for prostitution of young mainly Chinese women in most of Sydney’s major suburbs. The corrupting of Sydney’s police could not have been a very difficult task for the Ah Long considering the long history of corruption within the New South Wales police force and its other law enforcement agencies.
Many Australian politicians are known to have accepted bribes, expensive gifts and other inducement to favour Triad interest in Australia. It includes influencing immigration and business license decisions, government letters to Chinese business people engaging in business in South East Asia and China and for a variety of other purposes such as places at universities and favourable exam results.
AIRLINE STEWARDESSES AS ESCORTS AND MAS PILOTS TRAFFICKING DRUGS
More recently and notoriously an MAS airline pilot Thiagu Supramaniam was arrested in 2012 at Brisbane airport in possession of a five kilos of meth amphetamine first thought to be heroin on his person. And the problem does not stop there. He is not the only known airline pilot involved in the trafficking of large quantities of high grade heroin, cocaine, ice and ecstasy.
More than half a dozen Malaysian Airlines stewardesses abroad particularly in Europe and in the US have been caught doubling up as ‘Escorts” whilst on stop overs in these destinations. Holland and Los Angeles being the new popular, lucrative spots for these girls to ply their second trade in because of the strong presence of Triads there.
The recent death of a Chinese Malaysian airline stewardess in Holland is widely believed to have been linked to the Triads whose presence in Europe is anchored in Holland. She is believed to have been a ‘working girl’ for the Triads unbeknownst to her family. The real cause of her death has never been revealed apart from the obvious, a fall.
Whilst Hong Kong and Taiwan have previously been prominent in the “Escort” circuit for airline stewardesses, the preference for these girls and their Ah Long pimps has always been the larger cities of the west where the Triads are now a well entrenched criminal organizations.
PROSTITUTION RIFE AMONGST MAS STEWARDS AND STEWARDESSES
The practice of prostituting airline stewardesses abroad is quite widespread. In fact it has been reported and brought to the attention of MAS management previously. The problem though is securing a conviction without which the allegations remain just that and the ability of management to act is limited without a conviction. Or at least that is the theory.
MAS stewardesses have long been “party girls” to board members and their official guests at functions in Malaysia and abroad. There are at least two known videos of prominent Malaysian’s from the 1990’s in compromising positions and situations with Malaysian Airline stewardesses. And the vice does not stop there.
By contrast Singapore Airlines (SIA) is know to chaperon their stewardesses whilst they are abroad knowing full well the temptation and propensity for such activities by Asian gangs preying on their girls whilst abroad. SIA too it is known have suffered the experience of the Ah Long preying on young vulnerable women whose families are in debt to them. However to their credit the airline has become more circumspect and vigilant about the problem now.
Reliance on Ah Longs and other shark lenders as alternatives to banking and its red tape in Malaysia as an industry now challenges the dominance of the regular banking and finance sector. This is the case at least where private personal lending is concerned. The pervasive influence of the Ah Long has deeper and more sinister social undertones that are not immediately apparent in the “ economically prosperous moral jungle” Malaysia.
Where gambling of all variety thrives especially amongst the Chinese communities in Malaysia and Singapore, the influence and long dark shadow of the Ah Long is ever present. Oddly enough their most desperate victims are the Chinese themselves and if for no other reason than their renowned propensity for gambling.
MULTI LEVEL MARKETING: THE AH LONG AND CREDIT CARDS
Ah Longs these days operate through a vast network of multi-level marketers drawn from each of the major racial groups in Malaysia and Singapore. Their draw into their web of vice, unsuspecting borrowers in a consumer mecca like Malaysia and Singapore is a highly effective sales pitch.
Their sales force often and quite correctly compare the Ah Long to a credit card company describing the difference as such: ‘The Ah Long being the one not to pursue the sanction of courts and stigma of bankruptcy a regular credit provider is likely to pursue against a defaulting borrower. More effective is the comparison between the credit card’s up to 24% and above in the effective interest rate they charge on personal loans and that which the Ah Long charges for his money.
The sales pitch these days usually is along these lines: “I know the guy personally. He is not like that. Can negotiate. Just don’t delay payments too long. Anyone will get annoyed if you delay for too long. He won’t hit you or do anything like that. Those days are gone”.
The reality and the sales pitch of course often turn out to be greatly different to the other. But the difference is often discovered too late in the transaction.
MURDER AND POLICING THE AH LONG MENACE
The Ah Longs menace has resulted in a number of documented suicides by debtors so hopelessly in debt and unable to cope with the psychological, physical and social consequences of their indebtedness to the Ah Long. The most tragic of which is believed to be the pilot of a Silk Air flight 185 that crashed into a lake in Sumatera Indonesia killing 97 passengers and the crew.
There are reports of murder directly linked to Ah Long activity. However the statistics in this area are somewhat blurred because prosecutions have been frustrated through the inaction interference and omissions of corrupt members of the police force and the involvement of lawyer intermediaries intervening to scuttle due process.
The disturbing trend is such now that off duty policemen are known to accompany Ah Long enforcers, along with Tamil thugs to keep watch whilst they “enforce the Ah Long’s rights” under the debt obligations against the borrower.
This is known to range from a straight forward threat, to molesting a female member of the household, taking a woman away “for a ride” giving the debtor time to make repayment in full within say an hour. The known consequences of these rides have often known to be, a rape, others sexual assaults not quite amounting to rape like forced oral sex and in some cases mutilation.
CONSUMERISM: SOCIAL STATUS AT ANY COST
A sociologist describes this phenomenon as a by- product of a consumerism. It is known to be common in societies especially amongst Indians and Chinese where social status expressed in material acquisitions, a larger house, a newer car, a child studying abroad, expensive jewelry, brand name accessories, overseas trips and other lifestyle addictions are common. But the greatest and most common source of the vice is from gambling. And the Chinese have no monopoly in this vice in Malaysia today although they control much of it.
Malays from across the spectrum of Malay society have acquired a taste for the good life and with it the promise of fast wealth from gambling. A game of chance. And with that many chance their lives away.
Government negligence is something that most people are unable to explain nor the government explain away. The cost to the economy is immeasurable at the social, human and economic level. The reason is that much of this vice and its effects often go unreported. Debtor victims are ashamed for being in debt and many more are ashamed of the punishments inflicted on them by the Ah Long. And the price they pay in various assaults, the degradation and personal humiliation for their sins is the price for their silence.
There is a particularly ugly and enduring stigma attached especially to female members of families of the Ah Long experience. Who wants to buy into an Ah Long debt by marrying the daughter of an Ah Long debtor? Who wants a woman ‘handled by an Ah Long’ enforcer for a wife?
Ah Longs in truth are a parallel economy. They are an arm of the black economy. Drug money at work, white collar criminal money at work and police protection money at work and lawyer trust money as a source of potential work and fuel for the Ah Long economy. There is irrefutable evidence of police involvement if not complicity in protection networks which include enforcement work on behalf of Ah Longs.
GOVERNMENT TURNING A BLIND EYE- A BLACK EYE IN FUTURE
If government were to seriously go about attacking this menace they would enforce available criminal sanctions against the Ah Long in an exemplary manner. Many within the police force and other government organizations would be affected if this did occur. What the government may be ignoring in all of this also is a huge potential vote bank. If it only took the initiative to force “debt forgiveness” against Ah Longs or impose punitive high taxes on Ah Longs when caught to discourage them from continuing in the business it could well drive Ah Longs out of business and recoup unpaid taxes in their networks reducing considerably the impact of this huge social menace in Malaysia.
A revamp and re structure of consumer lending is also needed to bring into sharper focus the unacceptably large amounts of personal debt amongst Malaysians and force back into the regular banking system significant volumes of untaxed unreported money from the black cash economy. All of these factors will negatively impact on the economy long run if not checked now by government.
The Ah Long may well be Malaysia’s Greek debt problem which the state chooses to ignore. One day the chickens will come home to roost and that one day may not be too far away.