Fake Halal Meat Scandal in Muslim-Majority Malaysia Fuels Anger

A meat-fraud scandal is roiling Malaysia after a local news outlet uncovered a cartel that allegedly bribed customs officials in order to smuggle in all kinds of meat and label it halal, triggering outrage in the Muslim-majority country.

For more than 40 years, the conspirators allegedly bribed senior officers from several government agencies to import meat from non-halal certified slaughterhouses including China, Ukraine and South America, according to the New Straits Times, which first reported the story. Some of the imports included kangaroo and horse meat, which were then mixed with and sold as halal beef.

Halal certification confirms that products have been prepared in accordance with Islamic law, and it’s a big deal for Muslims globally and in Malaysia, where they make up about 60% of the population. It’s also big business: the country has been trying to become a global hub for the $2.3 trillion international halal market. Currently it exports about $9 billion in halal-certified products including food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products to China, Singapore, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere.

The news reports didn’t identify any members of the cartel by name, and one has been arrested. Police have promised a sweeping investigation that will include every part of the smuggling, storage and processing chain. The country is also considering establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry, which the religious affairs minister said is the best way to investigate the issue and address concerns of Muslims in the country.

Halal Standards

Meanwhile, a Kuala Lumpur-based traders and hawkers association asked its 6,000 members to temporarily suspend the sale of beef-based products. Malaysia’s Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs ministry the country’s three largest frozen meat suppliers are reliably guaranteed halal, according to state news agency Bernama.

The cartel’s operations begin at slaughterhouses where government agency officers supervise halal standards. The officials would fraudulently certify dubious or low-grade meat products, according to the report. Meat then entered Malaysia via ports, often avoiding inspection, then transported to warehouses where they were mixed with halal-certified meat and repacked with fake halal logos.

The controversy comes at the heels of the multibillion dollar 1MDB financial scandal that spurred court cases around the world over allegations of money-laundering, bribery, corruption and fraud, and could rattle Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s razor-thin parliamentary majority.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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