Sar Kheng Warns Provinces Against Covering Up Human Trafficking

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng at a meeting to address human trafficking, held in Phnom Penh on Friday, August 26, 2022. Photo from the Facebook page of Sar Kheng.
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The interior minister warned provincial authorities against colluding with organized crime as he revealed he had received a peak of 10 human-trafficking complaints daily in August before scam crimes spread across the country.

Sar Kheng, speaking at a forum with civil society in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, touched on the recent surge of human-trafficking cases in Cambodian scam compounds marked with forced labor and allegations of torture. Tens of thousands of foreign workers perpetrated global scams from Sihanoukville and various casino compounds, special economic zones and condominiums across the country, with suspected links to organized crime.

Kheng said he had received 700 complaints about human-trafficking victims since opening a hotline on August 18.

“We started with an average of 10 complaints a day,” the minister said. “This human trafficking caused very complicated problems including human rights violations and other crimes including theft and robbery and kidnappings — this has not ended yet.”

The number of complaints had dropped, but the National Police was still sending cases to the provinces, he said.

“We need to be clearly accountable for each case and must not leave any case behind,” Kheng said. “We need to be clear with each case and must not go easy or collude with them. One day it will be discovered. If your excellency covers it up, when we cover it up, it means we support these illegal acts.”

Authorities had made “concrete” progress in reducing the crime in Sihanoukville, but “they ran to other destinations” — especially Phnom Penh, Kandal, Koh Kong, Svay Rieng, Banteay Meanchey and “very strongly in Oddar Meanchey.”

Oddar Meanchey’s border town O’Smach saw human trafficking rescues in October, with authorities pointing the finger at ruling-party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s family’s O’Smach Resort. Yong Phat attended the opening of a club near the epicenter of scam compounds in Sihanoukville and has also been linked to the recent casino fire in Poipet.

Authorities found 5,000 workers at Svay Rieng’s Moc Bai casino compound, Kheng continued. The workers and businesses fled the compound, he said.

“We did not chase them or punish them. They realized they were doing wrong so they left. So it is fine. If we had arrested them, where is the prison to put them and food for them to eat?” he said. “We are in the process of solving it with each other.”

The situation had improved, but it was not over, he said.

“Do not underestimate this case,” he said. “We are weak so they can use our territory. … I also accept this mistake.”

He added that the country remained under review on a “greylist” for money-laundering by the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force. The group is currently visiting the country, though Kheng pointed out that some aspects related to banking were considered improved.

“We still have remaining duties and we need to work harder,” he said. “We must ride the horse using our hands to hold on. If we stop caring about how money circulates, it can lead to terrorism and other crimes.”

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