Court Questions Suspects on Money Laundering After Sihanoukville Raid

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Police in Sihanoukville in September 2022. (Mech Dara/VOD)
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A group of suspects is being questioned by the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court in connection to “illegal gambling” and “money laundering” after police raided a Sihanoukville building, finding 223 foreign nationals, months after a string of similar raids on scam compounds.

Provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said police had found 223 foreigners after raiding a building in Sihanoukville’s Bei commune on November 30, without giving the name of the compound. He said the workers had been found in a “commercial building” but did not give the nature of their work.

Authorities were tipped off by a complaint of illegal detention to the Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s Facebook page, but Phearum claimed police had found no evidence of forced labor or human trafficking.

“I cannot provide more detailed information related to this case as it is now under the provincial [court’s] authority,” he said, adding that he did not know how many were being questioned by the court.

Thuch Panchasantepheap, the provincial court spokesperson, said he was busy and could not comment, while the court’s deputy prosecutor Penh Piseth could not be reached.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun told VOD in a voice message that the case was related to money laundering, so he could not provide any information.

Keo Vanthorn, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said 118 workers from the Bei commune building — mostly Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as one citizen each from Malaysia and Myanmar — were transferred to his department for working without proper documents.

He added that 92 people from the group had already been returned to their countries as of December 2.

Vanthorn said he was not sure what happened to the 105 remaining foreigners who were not sent to his department, but added that at least some of them were being questioned by the court.

“They have been suspected of running illegal gambling,” he said.

Though VOD and other news outlets have reported evidence of a sweeping scam industry run on forced labor across Cambodia, the government has largely deflected calls to investigate the business operators themselves, labeling the industry broadly as “illegal gambling” or “online gambling.”

Authorities launched a multi-province crackdown on scam compounds starting late August, primarily framing it as a crusade against improperly-documented foreign workers. However, in recent weeks Interior Minister Sar Kheng has acknowledged Cambodia has become a hub for crimes ‘we don’t understand,” before noting fraud and human trafficking and urging continued vigilance.

Kheng said last month that he had invited an international anti-money laundering institution to visit early next year to reassess Cambodia’s unresolved financial red flags, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

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