Malaysian authorities have cracked a major people-smuggling ring targeting Australia-bound Afghan asylum seekers using information gleaned from interviews with new arrivals on Christmas Island.

Seven immigration officials working at Kuala Lumpur International Airport were arrested last week as part of a sting which followed a joint Australian-Malaysian investigation of the people-smuggling syndicate.

The West Australian understands that following a tip-off from Australian authorities, Royal Malaysia Police uncovered a sophisticated operation involving an international network of corrupt officials in three countries and the "recycling" of false Pakistani passports.

Asylum seekers from Afghanistan would pay up to $10,000 to people smugglers based in Karachi in Pakistan and were given false passports for their flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where they would be instructed to go to a particular line in the immigration queue.

Once their passports were stamped by a corrupt official, they would be met by a member of the crime syndicate who would then confiscate their passports, take them to a safe house where they would pay about $3000 for passage to Australia on a boat through the Malacca Straits.

Some Afghans were flown from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta where corrupt officials helped them clear immigration and customs. They were also taken to safe houses to wait for their boat to Christmas Island.

Passports used by the asylum seekers were returned to Karachi for the next paying customers.

The syndicate's methods were pieced together by Australian analysts who found remarkable similarities in the stories of hundreds of asylum seekers during interviews with immigration officials on Christmas Island.

Of those arrested by Malaysian police last week, one was a deputy assistant director of the nation's immigration department. Two were foreign nationals; a Pakistani and an Indonesian.

_The West Australian _ was told yesterday that a "significant number" of the thousands of Afghan asylum seekers to have arrived on boats this year used the crime syndicate, which Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said was also involved in terrorist activities, drug and firearms smuggling and espionage.

A senior official said Australian authorities had been very impressed by the Royal Malaysia Police's professionalism and effectiveness.

The arrests came as Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday she would spend two days in Kuala Lumpur from October 31 to meet her Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak before heading to Jakarta at the invitation of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A record 107 boats have arrived this year carrying 5088 asylum seekers, 2557 of whom are from Afghanistan. The next biggest country of origin is Iran (753), followed by Iraq (571) and Sri Lanka (393).

The surge has forced the Government to announce several new detention centres, including the old army barracks at Northam which will house 1500 single men.

The West Australian

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