Did a car thief attempt to break into a vehicle at Johor Bahru Pandan Market?

By April 11, 2022 April 15th, 2022 Crime, Society

[Editorial Update: 15 April, 12:45am] We have updated the article to reflect clarification on social media from the owners of the vehicle. The rating has been changed from likely false to false.

We came across this post on a popular Singapore-based Facebook page relating to road issues:

The 16-second video purports to show a man attempting to gain access to a vehicle (SMH3955D Hyundai Avante) at Johor Bahru (JB) Pandan Market on 10 April 2022 by ‘tampering with the driver door with a ruler’. The post had gained 88,000 views within 8 hours at the time of writing.

A possible misunderstanding?

Facebook users have since responded to the post, and several have commented that it is yet another case that proves the lack of security for personal vehicles in JB, and by extension, Malaysia.

At the same time, multiple users have responded by suggesting that the man is in fact an attendant at a local car wash in the process of servicing the vehicle, as indicated by the brown cloth on the car’s roof. The users suggest that the car may have locked its doors automatically with the driver’s key still inside, and that the car wash attendant had been assisting in retrieving it.

Old fears resurfacing

Concerns over car theft and broader crime in Malaysia have long pervaded among Singaporeans due to a number of high-profile cases in which Singaporeans have been attacked and/or had their car or other valuables stolen.

An article in the Straits Times from 2015, for example, describe several carjacking incidents including one in which a woman’s family was in the vehicle when it was hijacked, and another when a man was held at gunpoint and forced to drive to the carjackers’ preferred location before being tied up and left by the road.

Such fears have some validity due to the persistence of vehicle theft syndicates in Malaysia, who have developed tools including master key-like devices to assist in the process of hijacking vehicles and then reselling them below market prices.

Malaysian police have attempted to keep a lid on the syndicate’s activities, and earlier this year arrested five men connected to the syndicate in a raid. Furthermore, it is not true that syndicates only target vehicles from Singapore. Over the course of a two-month operation in 2019, the police found that the primary targets of vehicle theft were Malaysians who parked their vehicles in JB for long periods while working in Singapore.

Moreover, even prior to the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns, crime statistics for Johor Bahru in 2019 had shown the number of reported car thefts as well as other crimes to have been declining as compared to previous years.

An uptick in falsehoods with the reopening of borders

While there is documented evidence of crime and car theft in Malaysia—as there is in many places around the world—recent social media posts claiming to show evidence of these activities have tended to coincide with the revived prospect of visiting Malaysia.

On 3 April 2022, Johor police were forced to refute another social media post that supposedly showed a Singaporean man being robbed and injured. The video had been resurfacing periodically since 2014, and had done so again almost immediately after the resumption of cross-border travel on 1 April.

Going a little further back in time, on 29 November 2021, we debunked a Facebook post of what appeared to be a snatch theft at City Square in Johor Bahru. The post originated on 22 November, closely coinciding with the timing of the launch of the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia a week later.

Similarly, on 29 June 2021, Reuters also published a factcheck on footage from Singaporean Facebook accounts from 26 June that claimed to show a shootout between armed robbers and a store owner in JB. This followed about a month after travel on compassionate grounds between Singapore and Malaysia was first allowed since the implemented of Covid-19 restrictions. The footage was traced back to an 8 June gunfight in a mattress shop in Ji-Parana, Brazil.

Whether such content stems from malicious intent or paranoia is unclear, but it is certain that viral social media posts alleging crimes in JB/Malaysia are unlikely to be reliable.

The verdict

In the comments section of the post, a Facebook user had come forward to inform that the car in question was her husband’s, and that the man in the video was indeed a car wash attendant assisting to retrieve a car key left inside the vehicle.

We also came across a Tiktok post, where the owner of the vehicle made an appearance, asserting that the man in the original video had actually been assisting in retrieving his key, which had fallen into the bonnet of the car.

SG Road Vigilante eventually posted a clarification two days later, stating that the owner of the vehicle himself had reached out to the page to shed light on the situation.

According to him, the man in the video was simply trying to help him retrieve his car keys that was locked up in his car’s bonnet.

The owner had even personally went down to the car wash again to meet the man “because he was being investigated for [the] false accusation”, and helped explain to the Malaysian Police about what actually happened.

Therefore, the claims made in the post are false.

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