Authorities Deny Detention, Torture After Launching Trafficking Raids

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Authorities conduct investigations in response to hotline complaints about human trafficking in Preah Sihanouk, in a photo posted on Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s Facebook page on August 27, 2022.
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Authorities released details of several crackdowns on forced labor and human trafficking of foreigners that were reported to the Interior Ministry’s hotline, but a ministry spokesperson again denied foul play or forced labor at almost all raided compounds.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told VOD on Monday that authorities so far have arrested 40 people in response to reports to the ministry’s hotline in Preah Sihanouk, Oddar Meanchey and Svay Rieng between August 23 and Sunday. He could not give the total number rescued, however.

“I cannot remember,” he said, “because there are lots and it has happened every day. The day before yesterday, there were two cases in Preah Sihanouk and yesterday there were another two cases — you can count by yourself.”

Sopheak described three rescues that officials attempted in Sihanoukville on Saturday: of one Malaysian woman at a location in Buon commune’s Village 6, a Malaysian man in Bei commune’s Village 1, and five Malaysians in Buon commune’s Village 4. Police couldn’t find the man reportedly working in Bei commune, but Sopheak deemed the other two cases to be merely labor disputes.

“Some people who are stuck in there just make accusations,” he said, though he acknowledged more serious cases also existed. “Some people after having been questioned, [it’s found that] there have been torture and beatings.” 

Cambodian officials have repeatedly denied that foreign nationals were detained and tortured in the country’s online gambling and fraud industry, most recently claiming that the 40 people who fled a Kandal province casino by swimming across a river into Vietnam were treated fairly by the company and were only escaping personal debts.

According to Sopheak, the Malaysian nationals from the three rescues were offered high salaries and brought in by brokers, but they were disappointed with work conditions in Cambodia.

“After having collected a few of them, they crossed the border, some crossing legally, while others illegally through corridors, as you know that we have so many corridors,” he said. He claimed the workers owe money to the company for accommodations and the travel, and others have lost money by gambling in the casino. 

Sihanoukville police also arrested three men in connection to different complaints from the hotline: Guei Yuchiang, a 45-year-old Taiwanese manager from the Jingsar building; Yang Jianhong, a 45-year-old Chinese manager from one of Lixin Group’s buildings; and Xu Liangfu, a 47-year-old Chinese electrician.

Officials also responded to a warrant sent out by a court in Thailand to bring back 15 Thai nationals working in Sihanoukville, adding that another four Thais who were not part of the warrant volunteered to return with them, Sopheak said. All 19 Thai nationals had no passports and had crossed the border at Poipet illegally before getting to the coastal city, he said.

Sopheak also referenced a case from Oddar Meanchey, which was detailed in a report from an Interior Ministry hotline report published on local news outlet CEN. According to the hotline report, Oddar Meanchey police chief Huot Sothy received information on Friday about Chinese nationals detained at O’Smach Resort in Samraong city’s O’Smach commune.

Police released the four victims from the company on Sunday but determined that the people did not face detention or torture but were only overworked.

O’Smach Resort is owned by the L.Y.P. Group and was granted a casino license earlier this month, according to the Commerce Ministry. The group’s directors are Senator Ly Yong Phat’s wife and businesswoman Kim Heang and the tycoon’s daughter Ly Arporn.

Authorities conduct investigations in response to hotline complaints about human trafficking in Preah Sihanouk, in a photo posted on Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s Facebook page on August 27, 2022.
Authorities conduct investigations in response to hotline complaints about human trafficking in Preah Sihanouk, in a photo posted on Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s Facebook page on August 27, 2022.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng has started publicly calling for victims of forced labor and human trafficking to file reports to his Facebook page, a hotline and other sources, after he on Friday expressed regret over “inhumane acts” being committed in Cambodia by a rampant but nebulous scam industry.

Kheng’s Facebook page published details of four operations in Sihanoukville between August 23 and Friday, releasing a total of 10 people from three locations and busting an arms trafficking ring.

But after intervening, authorities deemed two of the four cases to be “labor disputes” where workers were not happy because they were unable to leave the country, while one case resulted in no rescues or arrests. Though workers claim they are detained and threatened, authorities have routinely argued that forcing workers to stay inside a compound is a labor matter.

The four cases were detailed online:

  • A 27-year-old Malaysian woman was rescued from a location in Prey Nob district’s Bit Traing commune after alleging detention, threats of violence and trafficking. Eight Chinese nationals were arrested and a handgun seized. Investigation into the weapon led to the further arrests of two Cambodians and one Chinese national, and the seizure of two PPSh-41 rifles, a “Karatay” rifle, one AK rifle, four Zoraki handguns, one Sig Sauer handgun, 265 bullets, four cars and other items.
  • Four Malaysian men were rescued and one Malaysian manager arrested from Village 1 in Sihanoukville’s Bei commune. Authorities later let the manager go, labeling the case a labor dispute with no evidence of forced detention.
  • Police intervened to release another four Malaysian men and one Malaysian woman on Friday from Village 4 in Sihanoukville’s Buon commune. After arresting the Malaysian manager, authorities once again claimed this case did not violate any laws. 
  • Authorities responded to a complaint on an unspecified date but said the victim was uncooperative — without explaining how they did not cooperate — and therefore police abandoned the case. 

Hout Vicheat, deputy prosecutor for Preah Sihanouk province said none of these four cases had reached the court yet.

Immigration department spokesperson Keo Vanthan said he was too busy to speak on Monday, while Preah Sihanouk police chief Choun Narin could not be reached for comment.

Sopheak, from the Interior Ministry, described another rescue of five Malaysians from Buon commune’s Village 4, saying they were rescued from the Jin Bei 4 compound. He said they were originally offered salaries of $1,800 a month via ads on Facebook, but their salary was only between $900 and $1,000. 

“Working for Jin Bei 4, they were forced to work online, and they were forced to work 17 to 18 hours a day and were not paid as agreed,” he said. “After tiring of their work, they asked the company to resign, but [the company] did not allow it unless they paid the company $22,000 to stop [work] and threatened to transfer them to another company in Myanmar.”

A suite of companies and casinos under the Jin Bei name are directed by Zhu Jack and Ing Dara, while a former director, Guy Chhay, also controls companies within Prince Group as well as the investment firm Belt Road Capital Investment Group.

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