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The abuse of knowledge
14/02/2004 NST-PROP By Salleh Buang

It is indeed a pity that the people behind the fraudulent land transfers recently discovered in Selangor had no qualms about abusing the knowledge they have on the computerised land registration system for their own benefit.

According to recent reports, the scam had been going on since 2002, involving 13 fraudulent transfers of alienated land measuring approximately 1,000 acres in the State. The fraud had apparently been perpetrated through at least four land offices in Klang, Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat and Shah Alam.

The questions we must now ask are: How could the computerised land registration system be hacked into and its contents altered or modified? Where were the security features in the system - the safeguards? Were they not in place? If they were, were they hacker-proof?

Criminal activities involving land dealings are not something new. The law reports are littered with them. However, there is a stark difference between the cases in the reports and the land scam in Selangor.

In the reports, the crimes were invariably committed by individuals, while the incidents in Selangor over the past two years involve a group of people acting in concert; members of a computer-savvy syndicate, able to use modern technology to commit their crimes.

Within a fortnight of commencing their investigations, the authorities were able to commence criminal proceedings against one of the suspected perpetrators. A 24-year old contract worker at the Shah Alam Land Office was produced in the Shah Alam Sessions Court to answer a charge under section 467 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and also a fine. He pleaded not guilty to forging or tampering with the department’s computerised land ownership database with the intention of causing loss to the landowner.

In addition to that principal charge under the Penal Code, the accused was also charged under the Computer Crimes Act 1997, to which he also pleaded not guilty. These were two separate charges under this new cyber law, provided for under sections 4(1)(a) and 5(1).

The first offence (under section 4) is making unauthorised access (in plain language, hacking) with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of a further offence. Upon conviction, he can be given a custodial sentence not exceeding 10 years, a fine not exceeding RM150,000, or both.

The second offence (under section 5) is making an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer. In committing this offence, it is immaterial that the act in question is not directed at any particular programme or data, a programme or data of any kind, or a programme or data held in any particular computer. Upon conviction, he can be given a custodial sentence not exceeding seven years, a fine not exceeding RM100,000, or both.

The accused was said to have committed these offences on July 30, 2003 at his place of employment at the Selangor Secretariat Building in Shah Alam.

This case has been fixed for mention again on Feb 26, to enable the accused to appoint a lawyer. If you are interested in having a closer look, you know where you should be on that day.

The affected landowners certainly look forward to an early resolution of this criminal proceeding (and several others, which would most probably follow). They also want to know the identity of the others who are members of the syndicate carrying out the land scam. The information would be crucial to them later when they file civil proceedings under section 340(2) of the National Land Code in which they would certainly be seeking the orders of the court to restore the land titles (which they had lost as a result of the scam) back to them as rightful owners.

Professor Salleh Buang is the senior advisor of a company specialising in competitive intelligence. He is also active in training and public
speaking and can be reached at


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