On anniversary of Malaysian campsite landslide, victims' families, survivors seek answers

Vincent Khor Wei Fong set up a tribute in his home to his wife, Chin Su King, and his 5-year-old son, Daniel Khor Yen Hong, who were both killed by a landslide in December 2022. [VOA]

On a table next to his dining area, Vincent Khor Wei Fong has a display of photographs of his late wife, Chin Su King, and their 5-year-old son, Daniel.

They were among 31 people killed last year on Dec 16 when an early morning landslide swept over a campsite on Father’s Organic Farm in the town of Batang Kali, a countryside community about a 90-minute drive from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

One of the photographs shows Chin and Daniel together outside their tent just hours before the tragedy.

“It was hard for me to let go, because I felt like I didn't have the chance to finish our conversations and say goodbye to them,” Khor said.

On the anniversary of the catastrophe, victims' families and survivors gathered at the landslide site to light candles, say prayers and send off balloons tied with messages to those who perished.

“We find we have a bond together because after the incident we want to help each other to come up from the sadness,” said Brian Teng, whose tent was about 1.5 meters from the path of the landslide.

Victims’ families and survivors say they’re on a quest to find the underlying reasons behind this disaster. The government released a report in October that said the landslide was triggered by slope failure after unusually high rainfall over a period of weeks, but the report did not answer questions about why a farm and campsite were able to operate in what experts call a risky area.

The report also doesn’t address an environmental impact assessment approved by the Department of Environment in 2013 that said the area where the farm and campsite were located was not to be developed.

“The report merely claimed the rainy December weather as the cause,” Khor said, while dismissing the government’s report on the tragedy as unsatisfactory. “The fact that land restricted for development was somehow developed for business was due to negligence. This report was lousy.”

The report does not make clear which, if any, government body actually gave final authorization for development on that site. The report does say that in 2019, a state-level body approved development on the condition of approval from the Hulu Selangor District Council. Batang Kali is located in the Hulu Selangor district.

The report does not say whether that condition was met.

“Why there is a setting, a campsite or organic farm there and nobody stopped them?” Teng asked.

Several days after the landslide, Ng Sze Han, a member of the Selangor State Executive Council, said Father’s Organic Farm had a permit to operate as an organic farm. VOA sent several messages to Ng’s office, asking for clarification on which government office gave the final authorization that would allow an organic farm to operate on the site, but received no response.

VOA also repeatedly sent a list of questions to the Ministry of Local Government Development as well as the office of Amirudin Shari, who serves as the “menteri besar,” the equivalent of a chief minister, in Selangor state, but received no replies.

The office of Mohd Hasry Nor Mohd, the Hulu Selangor Municipal Council president, told VOA to direct its questions to the state government.

After reviewing property records, VOA reported in October that the organic farm and campsite were on land owned by Malaysia Botanical Gardens Resort. Records kept by the Companies Commission of Malaysia, which oversees the country’s business affairs, list Kong Yew Foong and his father, Kong Hon Kong, as company directors.

Earlier this year, Forbes magazine listed Kong Hon Kong’s net worth at $860 million. VOA left messages for the Kongs and the operators of Father’s Organic Farm but has not received responses.

“We want accountability and truth,” said Tan Ei Ein, whose 7-year-old son Zech was killed by the landslide. Victims' families and survivors have hired a lawyer to investigate and prepare for potential lawsuits.

“Our final goal is justice,” said Khor. “Those who are responsible should face justice.”

This will be the second year in a row that Khor won’t be with his wife and son on Christmas. Next to the table with the photographs of them, Khor set up his family’s Christmas tree.

“My son really loved this Christmas tree,” Khor said, later adding that his love for his wife and son inspires him to keep pushing for answers.