Crime History Law

How the Mamak Gang used Merdeka Day to rob RM12m from Subang Airport in 1994

If you’ve watched the hit Netflix series ‘Money Heist’, you would be familiar with the ingenious tactics employed by The Professor and his motley crew of bank robbers in their mission to rob the largest financial institutions in Spain.

But did you know that once, there was a brazen group of Malaysian gangsters who actually carried out a similar operation at Subang Airport back in 1994? And the best part is: they succeeded.

For this, we have to rewind all the way back to August 1994…

It was Merdeka Day, and police were busy with Merdeka celebrations

When the clock struck midnight on the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building clock tower in KL, all Malaysians could think about was enjoying the festivities. And why not; after all, it was Merdeka.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building clock tower, perhaps the defining icon of Malaysian independence. Image from: TripAdvisor

However, while the police personnel were focused on handling the event, an urgent message suddenly reached their ears of a mysterious occurrence: RM12 million (USD$3.5 million) worth of gold bars had gone missing from the cargo area of Subang Airport. What was even more shocking was that the Subang Airport cargo area was then known as Malaysia’s most secure compound:

“In my entire career as a police officer, this has never happened before, because this cargo area is a high-security complex. To penetrate it, the perpetrators would have needed a flawless plan.” – Azizan Anan, police investigator, in an interview with CNI

After rushing to the scene, police found that three airport guards had been tied up. Interestingly, the guards told them that the perpetrators had been policemen. Not convinced, the investigators asked to see CCTV footage of the incident.

 

They found that the robbers were dressed like the police, but did not act like them

The CCTV footage confirmed the guards’ story. Screencapped from: YouTube/CNI

Although skeptical at first, police saw that while they were dressed like policemen, their body language and demeanor were not, well, very police-like. This convinced the police that they were not dealing with ordinary criminals:

“These are not policemen, they are merely robbers. And well-organized robbers.” – Amidon Anan, police investigator, in an interview with CNI

In fact, based on the footage recovered, they found that the robbers had managed to clean out the place in just 20 minutes (which is probably shorter than the time this writer takes to summon the strength to get up in the morning). Even more genius was the fact that they had specifically chosen Merdeka Day as it was a holiday, and most of the airport employees were on leave. 

 

The heist shocked the entire nation, even the then-PM Dr. Mahathir

Given the sudden and large-scale nature of the event, Malaysians were gobsmacked to hear that such an occurrence had taken place right under their noses. Dr. Mahathir for one, was furious at the incident, calling the security standards of the airport into question:

“If gold bars can disappear from an airport, it’s not impossible for airplanes to go missing too.” – Dr. Mahathir, then-Prime Minister of Malaysia

Oof. That one didn’t age too well. Image from: iMoney Learning Centre

Having been shamed by the PM himself, the PDRM were determined to catch the criminals. They set up an undercover task force to track them down, and put Malaysia’s best cops in charge: legendary brothers Azizan Anan and Amidon Anan. In the words of Kamal Affandi, a Malaysian criminal analyst:

“If you have Azizan and Amidon as the task force, if you’re a criminal, you don’t even want to sleep, because you know they will hunt you down. They won’t sleep, they won’t eat, they will be trailing you with such intensity and passion until you are caught.” – Kamal Affandi, in an interview with CNI

Malaysia’s best police duo at the time, Amidon and Azizan Anan. Image from: CNI

Because of the slickness of the heist operation, Azizan and Amidon initially believed it was the work of an international crime organization, and that there was no way this was a local group. However, try as they might, they could not find any evidence tying it to a foreign group, so they had to look closer to home.

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One thing was for sure: these were no run-of-the-mill criminals that the police were dealing with, and they had to act fast.

 

The police got their big break when they identified similar patterns in past robberies

Upon further digging into local gangs, Azizan and Amidon found that there was one in particular who conducted robberies in a similar fashion: always dressed as police officers, customs officers, or road transport department officers, and were known for warehouse robberies and hijackings. After interviewing more witnesses, they found that these men were reported to have the ‘Indian, mamak look’, so the cops dubbed them the Mamak Gang.

The images of the suspects published by police. Image from: CNI/Hargaemas MY

Eventually, they identified the heads of the gang: the Abu Bakar brothers; Sharif, Rozlan, and Yusuf Abu Bakar, who were of Sri Lankan-Malaysian origins, and had graduated from petty theft and house/shop robberies to larger-scale pickings in KL, amassing millions. And similar to the Money Heist bank robbers, their modus operandi was always to use cunning, impersonation, and persuasion, rather than using firearms and violence, as this would help them escape stiff penalties in case they were caught.

After months of tireless searching with no luck, Amidon received information on the location of one of the Mamak Gang’s members’ whereabouts. He gave chase in an unmarked vehicle, but the gang member’s high-powered vehicle outran Amidon’s, and he even waved back at Amidon cheekily as he sped off into the distance.

Sounds like something Denver would do. Image from: Netflix/Tenor

More importantly, this act showed that Amidon’s cover was blown, and the Mamak Gang was on to them. The police, suspecting a mole in their midst, decided to mix things up by switching around their squad.

 

This strategy immediately yields results, and they manage to arrest two of their heads

Finally managing to nail brothers Rozlan and Yusuf, police immediately got to work in interrogating them, and found out a few interesting things; for one, that Sharif was their leader, and that they lived lavish lifestyles, often wearing flashy suits and driving flashy cars. Their main motivation was indeed money, but just like the Money Heist crew, they also wanted to be remembered as legends, hence the increasing scale of their heists. As for the Subang Airport heist, they had spent months on planning and rehearsing it, even down to the tiniest details of what they would do if they got caught.

Eventually, the police managed to round up many of the rest of the gang (including Sharif), but the pressing question remained: where was the gold? Well, it turns out that police were too late, as it had all been melted down and sold off. Only a fraction of the gold was ever recovered.

Image from: The Times

But the drama was not over. In 1995, all the arrested suspects were charged in court, and one of the Mamak Gang’s members had switched sides, testifying against the gang. However, before he could finish his testimony, the witness mysteriously disappeared. 

Thus, the court had no choice but to release the suspects, and no one was ever convicted of the Merdeka heist.

 

The Mamak Gang continued their criminal activities well into the present day

Yes, even a later re-arrest under the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) 1959 could not prevent the Mamak Gang from continuing their life of crime. In fact, subsequent generations of the Mamak Gang have emerged since the 2000s, still using the same tactic of impersonating policemen.

As for recent activities, the last known resurgence of the Mamak Gang that we could find was in 2017, when two of their members were shot dead by the police after a gunfight. A few others had also been gunned down or arrested over the years, but in recent times, not a whole lot has been said about them.

The scene of a shootout which resulting in a dead Mamak Gang member in 2014. Image from: Shahrul M Zain/NST

But wow. What a story, and definitely more realistic than that ridiculous ending of Money Heist’s third season.

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