Amid reports of widespread human trafficking and enslavement in Sihanoukville, a Chinese businessman working to rescue victims was questioned by the city’s prosecutors on Tuesday.
Months of foreign nationals making pleas for help from forced labor at scam operations led to some international attention in recent weeks after one alleged victim claimed his blood had been harvested when he refused to work.
Provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun said on Tuesday that the claim had brought him “headaches.”
“The fabrication of crime cases (slaves selling blood) and the words (which may affect friendships) have brought headaches for several days. Thanks to the authorities for solving the case quickly. But let the fabricators consider the damage, a very serious economic relationship and a national honor,” Chamroeun said.
Provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said: “It’s a leader’s message to the public, especially to the group that in Sihanoukville creates fake news and causes chaos in society.”
Chen Baorong, head of the Cambodia-China Charity Team, which has been working to rescue trafficking victims, is among four individuals targeted by authorities in the case. The team said Monday night that Chen had been denied bail.
Huot Vichet, deputy prosecutor and spokesman for the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, said on Tuesday that Chen and two others had been brought to Sihanoukville and questioned, while the fourth — the man who said he had been a “blood slave” victim — was still in hospital in Phnom Penh.
“We are preparing to press charges, and the case is a little complicated due to the fact that it occurred both in Sihanouk and Phnom Penh, so we need to check thoroughly,” Vichet said. “We cannot rush this case.”
The three individuals were being held at provincial police headquarters while the case was prepared for an investigating judge, he said.
Previous rescues have largely led to the city’s scam and slavery operations continuing intact. Thai police have said that they had only been able to arrange repatriations for specific Thai nationals rather than crackdowns on entire facilities or the arrests of perpetrators. Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin has meanwhile downplayed incidents, saying in January that a group of rescued Pakistanis were only unhappy with their food.
One rescued trafficking victim said on Tuesday that he remained grateful to “captain Chen” for helping him after he was able to escape a Sihanoukville compound but got injured in the process.
“I’ve seen his selfless dedication. Good people will receive good rewards. Captain Chen is the person I respect the most,” the man said. “I feel restless, knowing I cannot do much for my savior.”
Another rescued victim said he had also seen Chen sacrifice himself for others.
“The people he’s rescued, everything he’s done, none of it benefits him, but he continues to do it. Look at how skinny he is. In just a few short months he’s lost so much weight,” the man said. “When I was with captain Chen, I saw he didn’t even have time to eat. Constant calls and messages for help, he stops eating after one or two bites. What kind of person would do all this?”