UPDATED 5:40 p.m. — A Chinese businessman central to the ongoing rescues of trafficked and enslaved scam workers in Sihanoukville and across the country is under police investigation, his team said.
Rescuers have been fielding dozens of pleas for help every week from Chinese nationals who say they are being detained at work camps in Cambodia and forced to perpetrate online scams. Thai, Pakistani, Taiwanese and other foreign nationals have also been rescued from such scam operations, though authorities and civil society have been largely silent on the alleged human rights abuses.
A brief statement from the Cambodia-China Charity Team, which comes under the umbrella of the China Commerce in Cambodia Association, said that Chen Baorong of the Cambodia-China Charity Team came under investigation by the Cambodian police around midday Friday.
“The Cambodia-China Charity Team supports the police to find out the truth, to severely punish criminals, and to provide all parties with an explanation,” the team said on Saturday, adding that Chen was accompanied by volunteer translators.
Phnom Penh police chief Sar Thet, when asked about the case on Friday, would only say that a Chinese national was under investigation by National Police. Deputy National Police chief Y Sokhy asked a reporter to wait then hung up. A guard and receptionist at the China Commerce in Cambodia Association office in Phnom Penh said about five men in black uniforms had come to the office late morning Friday, and left with Chen after speaking for a short time.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, meanwhile, on Thursday condemned the “shooting, kidnapping and extortion” of Chinese nationals in Cambodia in relation to online gambling and fraud schemes.
“The methods of some of its criminals are extremely cruel,” the chamber letter said. “The atrocities made one boil with anger and aroused the strong indignation of the Chinese compatriots in Cambodia and the Chinese people at home.”
The chamber urged officials to crack down on the groups that commit them.
The police investigation against Chen comes amid rising attention and controversy over an alleged “blood slave” trafficking case. Earlier this month, the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh said a man “was duped by a false job advertisement” and “coerced by criminals into being smuggled to Cambodia.”
The man was “later illegally detained by online gambling and scam gangs in Chinatown in Sihanoukville, and had large quantities of his blood drawn repeatedly, until he was in critical condition,” the embassy said, referring to a precinct in the coastal city notorious for crime.
On Monday, however, National Police issued a statement that the story had been fabricated by the victim, who would be sent to court alongside three accomplices, including one woman.
The man had entered Cambodia illegally, “but due to a physical illness, also contacted a group of people to help find a solution for his problem,” police said.
The three unnamed accomplices helped the man come up with a story of torture to get help, police said, urging “all journalists and social media users to adhere to professional ethics by not publishing information without clear sources, especially to avoid arbitrarily concluding any facts without clear evidence that affects the social environment and causes fear among national and international tourists and foreign investors in Cambodia.”
Later on Monday, the Chinese Embassy issued its own statement echoing National Police. The embassy said the man had contracted a serious liver disease after arriving in Cambodia.
At Phnom Penh’s Bethune Cambodia China First Hospital on Monday, a staff member said the man remained in a serious condition and was improving but “still needs a lot of blood,” and was now being guarded by police and no longer being looked after by the charity rescue team.
In the afternoon, deputy National Police chief Sokhy said Chen was one of the four people who are part of the court action into the blood harvesting case. The case would be sent to the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, he said. The remaining two individuals in the case were a doctor in Preah Sihanouk and one of Chen’s subordinates, Sokhy said.
Updated at 5:40 p.m. with comment from Y Sokhy.
Updated at 5:47 p.m. with a Chinese Embassy statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated a nationality of previously reported victims.