AT least 15 Filipinos, who were allegedly trying to enter Sabah carrying P10 million in cash, have been arrested by Malaysian authorities.
State-run Bernama news agency reported on Wednesday that the Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Task Force (ATB 2) intercepted the boatload of Filipinos off the waters of Pulau Denawan, Semporna at around 3 a.m.
The arrested Filipinos were turned over to the headquarters of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the report added.
According to Major Mohammed Fahmi Ishak, media relations officer of ATB 2 Headquarters, the 15 Filipinos, described as 22 to 49 years old, had trespassed into the Malaysian waters.
They had with them P10-million cash in bundles. The boat was later towed to the military jetty at the Azumi Camp in Semporna.
But the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo the Islamic denied that the arrested Filipinos were their followers sent to reinforce the Sulu Royal Forces (SRF) that have been in Sabah since February.
Sultanate’s Spokesman Abraham Idjirani said they could be traders buying legitimate goods in Sabah.
“They are businessmen from Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga Peninsula. They are used to bringing with them bundles of cash because they have no banking system there and they do not use credit cards,” Idjirani said.
He said the sultanate, led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd, does not have such amount of money.
Idjirani explained that Filipino barter traders have long been going to and from Sabah to do business with Sabahans and other foreigners for decades because of the territory’s close proximity to the communities in the southern Philippines.
“Maybe, these corrupt Malaysian security forces were only interested in the money the Filipinos were carrying,” Idjirani added.
The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur on April warned Filipino barter traders to comply with new Malaysian regulations requiring Filipinos and other foreigners to present passports or seaman’s books if they wish to do business in the disputed state and the neighboring territory of Labuan.