The Extraordinary Adventures Of A Real-Life Malaysian Supercop

Tan Sri Zaman Khan's experiences are nothing short of epic.

  • By: Afiqah
  • Monday, 7 January 2019
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The Extraordinary Adventures Of A Real-Life Malaysian Supercop
'Polis Evo 2' is certainly one of the most highly anticipated local movies of 2018.

We were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to watch the movie, which tells the story of how Malaysia's Special Forces (VAT69) rescued villagers who were held hostage, with the man who had been in such situation himself.

He is none other than Tan Sri Mohd Zaman Khan Rahim Khan.
A respected figure.“It was thrilling,” he said of the movie as we sat down together for lunch after the movie. “The part where they had to volunteer – that was good. It is a question of life and death. We want people who are committed.”

The part of the crisis negotiator -- which was part of Zaman's jobscope back in the day -- was played by veteran actress Erra Fazira.

Zaman told us that there were some parts in the movie that do not quite resemble how it would be like in real-life, but he said: “The movie does have some good values like dedication, brotherhood and could serve as motivation to the viewers, especially today’s generation.”

Busting Botak Chin. 
If you have no idea who he is, Zaman has long had a reputation as a super cop who goes out and about busting crimes. His 36-year-long service as part of the men in blue has gotten him involved in many high-profile cases.

The infamous cases of Botak Chin, Bentong Kali, and Mona Fandey are several on the list. He was also one of the first to be on site for the search and rescue mission when the Highland Towers came crashing down.

We sat down with the legendary supercop to talk about his extraordinary career and experiences. 

Go Big Or Go Home

Being a crimebuster and later on, a crisis negotiator, one has to be brave and willing to take risks. Good thing for Zaman, he has both the qualities.

“I am one of those who take risks,” said Zaman. He also cited risk-taking actions as the most memorable part of his career.
Zaman wouldn’t describe himself as fearless, although he feels that ‘fearless’ just means that one does not think. Instead, he sees himself as “not-a-coward”. He reckons that it is a trait that has been nurtured during his childhood days.

The supercop back in the day.
Where he lived back then, he reminisced, there was a railway train. It had a signal post that tells the incoming train whether they could come in or not.

“People used to commit suicide there. Everybody says there’s ghost there,” he laughed. Instead of being frightened as many would, this brave child was intrigued.

“I wanted to go and see it very much because, in the house, there was nothing – no TV, no light.”
And so, one night during the fasting month, while waiting for sahur in the wee hours, he went to sit down on the railway line where many had chosen to end their lives.

Asked why he would do such a thing, he answered, “To kill the fear. It’s a challenge for me.”

Another incident that was also a fine display of his boldness was when he was about to be caned by his uncle for quarrelling and fighting with another relative.

“I ran away and hid at the graveyard. It was raining slightly. They went and looked for me there but they said ‘No, this fellow won’t dare to come to the graveyard’. So, they went back. When the rain got heavy, I came back. They asked, ‘Where were you’. I said I was at the graveyard, I saw you there,” he said with a chuckle.

Little did he know, his show of fearlessness would serve him really well in the future.

A Brilliant Mind

Zaman may be a mischievous young boy but he also has a bright mind. When he was eight, his father sent him and his brother, Musa Khan, to stay with their uncles, a move that might have changed his life for the better.

“Most of my friends were shot dead by the police in their later life,” he told us, adding that his father felt that his sons too might have gotten in trouble had they stayed around any longer in Sungai Golok.
With that, Zaman began receiving formal education.

“Because I was older, I went to Standard 2 straightaway.”

Zaman (seated, second from the right) was also a prefect during his days in V.I.
However, within a short period of time, he was able to jump to Standard 4 and later, Standard 6. After about two years, his father sent him to stay with his great-grandfather to study English, or as they call it, ' bahasa orang putih' (Sekolah Malam Majlis Ugama Islam Kelantan).   
He went to one of those night schools where English was taught. Those who went there were mostly children of aristocrats.

“I was a real kampung boy,” said Zaman. He would attend the classes in his sarung and at times, even go barefooted. He endured the teasing. The teacher, however, noticed that he was more advanced than the rest.

“The teacher advised me to go to a proper English school.”

Although it took a few more enrollments in other schools, he listened to the advice.

Zaman's alma mater. 
Zaman eventually made it as a Victorian. It was Dr. G.E. D. Lewis, the principal of Victoria Institution, who convinced him to move to KL.

At first, Zaman was worried about the financial aspect. However, he received the assurance from the Englishman: “He told me to come to KL. If I have no scholarship, he will give me a scholarship.”
Zaman proved his worth with his excellent academic results. He was top of his class.

As Fate Would Have It

Later on, to further his studies, he went for an interview to get a Colombo Plan scholarship. Considering how the interview went, he thought he would get the scholarship.

“To my greatest disappointment, I didn’t get it. I was disappointed because for the final trial exam school level, I was first in class and sixth in my standard. This was before the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examination,” stated Zaman. 
With that, he went back to his hometown. There, his friend, Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman (who would later set up the renowned real estate consultancy firm, Rahim & Co), who was a temporary teacher, faced the same issue – he too did not get a scholarship.

Zaman was convinced to apply to be a cadet ASP (assistant superintendent of police) with Rahim.

“Straightaway division one. Gazetted officer,” he was told about it.

Zaman had no choice but to join the force. 
Off went the two chaps to meet the Officer in Charge of Police District (OCPD) of Pasir Mas, Chief Inspector Tan Bian Guan, to apply for the post.

“We were asked to sit. He looked at us and said, ‘Why are you so stupid?’. Rahim and I were stunned. ‘Your results (are) so good. Go and study lah. Don’t be stupid’.

After explaining their situation, they were given the application form and soon enough, they were then called for an interview. They got the job, of course.

Zaman would still face those who questioned why he would do such a thing. He had said: “If I don’t join, the most I can become is a teacher but I don’t think with my temperament I can become a teacher.”

A group of senior officers retraining on several aspects of jungle warfare. Zaman is at the front row, third from the left. 
They traveled to Kuala Lumpur to report for duty on 1 June 1962. On the way to Bukit Aman, near British Council at Federal House where Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam was situated at that time, Rahim asked Zaman to wait for a while. He didn’t say what for.

“He went. Hardly ten minutes after that, he came running down saying ‘Aku tak mahu masuk polis’ (I don’t want to join the police).” It turns out that Rahim had gotten himself a scholarship.

Recalling that incident, Zaman said: “That one I felt it again – so very upset. I looked hard at him and said never mind.”

He bade his friend farewell and reported for duty. That was the beginning of an illustrious career.
“Those days, the training was very tough and very strict,” said Zaman. When asked what kept him going, he said: “I had no choice. This was my future”.

A bright future certainly awaits as he went on to hold various top posts.

But nothing prepared Zaman for several hostage crisis situations in which he was tasked to solve. 

The Hostage Crisis That Shook The Nation

One of Malaysia's scariest crisis situation.
It was the year 1975. He had just been promoted as Selangor’s Criminal Investigation Department chief with the of rank Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), and he was at the police headquarters in Bukit Aman to express his gratitude to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the deputy IGP as well as to bid farewell to his men.
“I was in my suit and tie – ready to go and meet the new boss in Selangor, Datuk Santokh Singh. But when I came down, I opened the door to my former unit where they were having a meeting – I didn’t know what meeting. I said, 'Hello. Cheerio'."

He was then insisted by his men to stay, as there was a serious incident taking place. Thinking it was a joke, he said, “Poorah” and continued walking out.  A few of them rushed out, grabbed him, took his briefcase and told him it was not a joke.

Long story short, he eventually stayed back. He was briefed that a group of gunmen stormed the American Insurance Associates (AIA) Building in Jalan Ampang and took around 50 people hostage.
Where it took place.
In this particular event, the Japanese Red Army (JRA), whose aim is to overthrow the Japanese government, held the hostages on the 9th floor of the AIA building. They demanded the release of several of their compatriots who were then imprisoned in Japan. The lives of the hostages, which also included the United States Consul and Swedish Charge d’Affaires, were at stake.
When the Japanese government refused to give in to the demands, his team had decided to make preparation to assault. Initially, there was silence when the late M. Shanmugam, the commander of the UTK then, spoke. Zaman took it upon himself to rise up to the task to be in the frontline.

“I said ‘I’ll go’. Then, a number of others volunteered spontaneously.”

They knew each other very well because they used to train together. Zaman also understood the risk that came with it.

“I know very well when we burst to the door to capture or kill the terrorists, they might shoot at us or we might trip a booby trap.”
The policemen making their way up. 
The day to execute the assault came. They were up at the door, ready to attack. They had spotted a booby trap. Then, there was a sudden message telling the squad to abort the raid. Apparently, the terrorists have agreed to talk.

“They threw a letter. So, we went down, to wait for instruction from the Crisis Management Team who was in contact with the Japanese terrorists.”

The late Tun Ghazali Shafie, who was the Home Minister then, played a big role in the negotiation process.
They finally came to an agreement: the Japanese government agreed to supply the aircraft and shift them (the imprisoned JRA compatriots in Japan) to Subang airport.

The hostages at the runway. 
At the airport, there were further negotiations to release the hostages. To this, the Japanese militants agreed. The JRA had set their way of doing things too.

“They asked for newspapers. They want to know they (the imprisoned JRA leaders) are already out. We had to be very careful. If we don’t give the newspapers, they might say something – they might think we’re trying to do something naughty. Of course, we tried but the pros and cons must be considered.” 
However, in exchange of the hostages, they asked for government officials to be the replacements. Then Deputy Transport Minister Dato' Ramli Omar and Tan Sri Osman Samsuddin Cassim were the representatives from Malaysia who boarded the plane.

They were headed to Libya, which was then led by Muammar Gadaffi, to seek protection. The negotiation to exchange the hostages also saw JRA agreeing to dispose the explosives.
Although there was an injured officer, this event thankfully ended with no casualties.

The Riot In Pulau Jerejak

There was a riot that occurred at Pulau Jerejak when he was serving as the Penang Police Chief. Pulau Jerejak, to jog your memory, was home to those who were arrested after the May 13 incident. These are tough gangsters and hardcore criminals.
Pulau Jerejak was also where those with leprosy and tuberculosis were put to be isolated.
Zaman received the information about the riot that had the island burning.

“They said the rioters were trying to capture the warden.”
Zaman sprung into action, but there was a problem: one would have to take a boat to go to Pulau Jerejak. To make matters worse, only police boats were allowed in the vicinity, so he couldn't just grab a civilian boat and go, like portrayed in the movies. But as luck would have it, a boat that was not supposed to be there was present, Zaman recalled.

“He came back – I don’t know why he came back. He saw me coming. He wanted to run away. I said, ‘Come here’. I just took the gun from my sentry. With the boat, I went.”
Zaman confronted the bad guys at the island. 
What he didn't expect was how violent the situation got.

“They started shouting, holding sticks. The wardens had gone to guardhouse already,” said Zaman.

Once he reached the island, he stood up and shouted at the rioters despite not having any backup.

“I said, ‘You get back or I’ll shoot you’. They did not take my warning,” he said, adding that one block was already in flames by the time he got there.

“Lucky for me, among them were gangsters from the Klang area who know of my notoriety. I don’t know what he said. I asked him after the whole thing. It seemed that he said, ‘Don’t play with this mad fellow. He will really shoot you all.’" 

“As soon as he spoke, I took my M-15 and shot at the bell at the railway line.”

And just like that, they went back and the issue was resolved. You’d have to admit; that was absolutely badass!

The Siege of Pudu Prison  

Pudu Jail before it was torn down.Zaman also played an important role in the Pudu Prison siege. In case you didn’t know, this incident saw two medical officers held hostage by six inmates. Jimmy Chua, who was a Singaporean policeman-turned-criminal, led the siege.

They demanded freedom, a getaway car, and money. The hostages would be harmed if the demands were not fulfilled. Although they did not have firearms as weapons, they had improvised weapons such as sharpened shoe heels.
“It was a very dangerous thing because this fellow had a knife, using a razor blade,” said Zaman.

Zaman was called back from Singapore and was immediately put on standby.

“I didn’t know what happened. At night, I was taken into Pudu Jail by Tun Hanif Omar (the IGP then) in his car. Nobody knew because the car was heavily tinted.”
The crowd outside Pudu Jail. 
“On the second or third day, Tun Hanif came and discussed with me the pros and cons, what to do and all that. And then he said, ‘Okay, don’t do anything. We’ll come back and talk it over tonight.’”
However, half an hour after Tun Hanif left, Datuk Ibrahim Mohamed, who was the director-general of the Prisons Department at that time, told Zaman that it was a good time to raid the place, as the inmates involved were tired. Plus, the door to the hospital area where they were holding the hostages appeared to be ajar.
It was a rather complicated circumstance for Zaman. While it certainly sounded like a golden opportunity, he had already been briefed by Tun Hanif to not do anything just yet until further discussion and development.
He asked his men – the Special Branch representative, ACP Ghazali Yaakob and the UTK commander, ACP A. Navaratnam (who was Zaman’s instructor when he was undergoing a basic course in shooting during his early days in the Police Depot) – what they thought.

Their reply? “Sir, you are the boss.”

However, the answer from the Burmese surgeon attached with the team, whose role is to provide emergency treatment in case of injuries, shook him.

“If the hostages’ throats are slit, you’d have very little time and concern,” he reminded Zaman.

Jimmy Chua, lost and defeated. 
“Then I looked hard at the men. They looked hard at me. To me, it was a very critical time. If I don’t take the chance, they’d say I have no balls. So, I went to the pillar of the canteen, I put my forehead there, prayed to God to give me the will to do it.”

Then, it was go-time.
“Believe me, the UTK boys were so well-trained. They were using rattan – longer than a broomstick to push and hit the hand. When we went there, I was the third or fourth in line. I never realised that we had rescued all the hostages. I was concentrating on Jimmy. ”

It was reported that the assault lasted less than one minute with no bloodshed!

“The thing is to try to prevent them from slashing the hostage. We had advice from Tun Dr. Mahathir through the IGP to have no bloodshed.”
Zaman addressing the reporters. 
The next morning, Zaman along with the Special Branch officer and the commando of UTK went to see the IGP.

“After he signed some papers, he looked hard at me. With a smile, this was what he said: ‘Hell of a bloody risk that you take, Zaman. If you had failed, I would have hung you up and cut your flesh alive’," he laughed. 

'Apa lu mau?'

Throughout Zaman's career in the force, he experienced a lot of ups and downs (once, he was declined a Datukship title a day before the award ceremony was scheduled to take place. "I sort of cried," he admitted).

Despite that, Zaman told us that he does not resort to ill-treating or using dirty tactics. It has worked in his favour on numerous occasions, he reminisced.

This particular incident, he told us, took place after he had retired from the service.

It was during the recession and he wanted to buy a lawnmower from a Chinese shop. Once the price was agreed upon, Zaman wanted to pay with a cheque. However, due to the economic climate, the shopkeeper declined.

No-nonsense Zaman, as they called him.
Zaman figured he would try a different shop. A Chinese man passed by him as he was making his way out. In the car, Zaman’s driver told him that the chap was looking at him. He wondered what was the matter. Zaman turned back and looked at him to see whom he was.
The Chinese man acknowledged him.
He asked Zaman, “Apa lu mau? (What do you want?)”
Zaman told him about what happened in the shop and in turn, the man told him to wait.
“I don’t know what he said to the shopkeeper, but he came and called me back and I was now able to make the purchase.”
Curious, Zaman asked the man: “Eh, macam mana lu boleh kenal sama saya? (How do you know me?)”
The man said, “Oh. Lu sudah lupa? (You’ve forgotten).”

A picture by The Star that shows Zaman in action during the recapturing of the convicts who escaped prison back in 1981. 
The man brought up an incident of how two busloads of tourists from Serdang were robbed when they had stopped to rest overnight near a hotel in Singapore.
“Oh. Macam mana lu tau? (How did you know?),” asked Zaman.
Saya la bikin samun. (It was me who committed the robbery),” said the man.
Apparently, he was the robber who was arrested by Zaman at a roadblock set up just hours after the robbery. Who would have thought that many years down the road after such an event, he would be the one helping Zaman purchase a lawnmower?
Zaman stated: “When you deal with this kind of people, it is very important to not play them out. As far as I’m concerned, when you make a bargain, it is a bargain.”

Expectation vs Reallity

While it is pretty awesome to see crisis or hostage negotiators strutting their stuff on the big screen, Zaman revealed that art certainly does not imitate real life.

During a real-life crisis negotiation, it takes much more than just one phone call and one person's command to set everything in motion.

Erra Fazira plays a crisis negotiator in 'Polis Evo 2'. “Remember – in a case like that, you are not alone. There is always a body called the Crisis Management Team. Whatever you do must be coordinated with the decision of the Crisis Management Team,” explained Zaman.

“Normally, a crisis management team comprises of a number of assets – we have the crime people, Special Branch people, top brass, and those from the government.

“As soon as the initial shot, of course, the local people will take action – that’s very important also. The local people must know what it’s all about, how to handle the case. So, normally, most of them – like the OCPDs – go for training on crisis management.”
Before making a decision, the team will consider various factors, he revealed.

“In the AIA case, a crisis management team was set up immediately in the AIA building.”

Before a plan was even set up, they had to contact friendly countries to get more information about the group. (“We do get tip-offs,” revealed Zaman)

Wisma Putra is very important for outside contacts. For this particular case, they also had those from the civil aviation industry involved.

Zaman stated, “The most important thing is the training and discipline of not only the assault team but even the people in the crisis management team. They must have certain qualities.

"In a way, when you deal with hostage-taking, a lot of human factors involved. You have to think of the safety of the hostages. Your men are okay; they are committed. They know what is the job at hand.”

There is also the matter of public perception, making it a very delicate issue indeed.

“But you must be brave – brave in making a decision. If you hesitate, it will be taken advantage by the enemy,” said Zaman. “The scene will definitely be tense in the crisis management team and the police squad. But training will implant to you that strength.”
Zaman also mentioned that in these situations, “You cannot cheat, you cannot bluff because once the enemy knows, they will not trust you. You can use delay tactics and all these but you cannot say yes one time, then say no another time.”

Only Human

Always have faith, he tells us.While his bravery is on another level, when all is said and done, Zaman is human just like the rest of us.

“I do think – especially when I come back – I see my children sleeping. I think to God, ‘What happens if I’m gone’. That’s why I said; always save for your children in case we are gone. It’s very important. Of course, have faith in God.”
Larger than life.
After all that he has been through, Zaman encourages those interested to join the police force.

“You will be contributing to the peace and security to your country and your countrymen.

“Peace and security are worth more than wealth,” he added.

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