Training Center Directors on Trial After Falsely Promising Jobs in Korea

4 min read
Victims of an alleged Korean language school scam and family members stand outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after a hearing on January 12, 2021. (Va Sopheanut/VOD)

Two Korean language training school directors stood trial on Tuesday over charges of fraud — involving dozens of workers who each lost thousands of dollars — by falsely promising to send them to work in South Korea. Some were never sent, while others were sent to Dubai instead, the court heard.

Pen Sok, 35, director of Samsung Korean Language Training Center in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, and Roeun Ratha, 31, director of Anh Sang school in Kampong Chhnang province, were charged with fraud with aggravating circumstances and unlawful removal for cross-border transfer. They were arrested in December 2019 and November 2020, respectively, and the two crimes are punishable by two to five years in prisons and seven to 15 years in jail.

Speaking at the morning hearing, five victims told the court that they had spent hundreds of dollars for health checkups, passports and registration fees and up to $2,500 for the final processing to go to South Korea.

Toam Phally, 31, from Kampong Chhnang, said she learned about the program on Facebook and registered with the Samsung center in Phnom Penh. She was sent to a Kampong Chhnang training center where she trained to work at a salon. But two months after completing her course she was told to go to Dubai instead of Korea. She went, but returned after just five days.

“He said [I would] go to work at a salon but when I arrived there was no salon. There was only massage,” Phally said. “When I arrived, they took me to sit in a massage parlor. I thought, I’ve been cheated.”

Phally said she was one of more than 50 people who ended up in the United Arab Emirates at that time through the linked training centers.

Speaking after the hearing, another worker who testified, Sorn Metta, 24, from Kandal, said he was told he would get seasonal work in South Korea for six months, but no opportunity came about. The training centers refused to refund him, and instead told him they would send him to Dubai if he paid some more money.

Metta said that in Dubai he lived in a rented house with more than 50 workers in a room of about 5 square meters. He was told to distribute flyers for sex services, and was chased by police, he said.

He then got a job at a construction site, but he never got the better pay he was promised nor a visa renewal. He stayed about a month, and ended up spending about $5,000, he said.

“We didn’t trust [the supervisor] and if we still stayed there, we would have ended up in jail,” said Metta.

Chhut Saly, 37, from Kampong Chhnang, said that at first she was sent to Korea for three months, but after returning to Cambodia to renew her visa, she was sent to Dubai.

She was promised a wage of $2,500 to $3,000 a month, but when she arrived, that salary was in dirhams — equating to about $700 to $800.

“I was shocked and I did not end up at a salon,” Saly said. “When I finished working an hour, I was asked to sell my body. … They said if we did the extra business, we could earn more money.”

Two other victims, Phorn Sreyleak, 30, from Koh Kong province, and Phon Davann, 35, from Takeo province, said during the court hearing that they were never sent anywhere despite paying for the training.

Under questioning by deputy prosecutor Song Chhorvoan and Presiding Judge Ouk Reth Kunthea, Sok pleaded guilty, acknowledging that he had registered workers for Korean language classes for $200 to $250, and took between $2,000 to $2,500 to process the transfer of workers even though his center did not have a license to send workers overseas.

However, Sok was evasive at times, earning a rebuke from Chhorvoan, the deputy prosecutor.

Sok told the court that some victims had been refunded $300 to $1,500.

Ham Sunrith, one of the lawyers for the victims, said he represented 26 of more than 50 plaintiffs. His clients had lost $70,000 in total and had received no compensation, he said.

A total of three or four training centers were likely involved in the scheme, he said, adding that there were likely more victims.

Asked why so many people were cheated at the same time, Sunrith said the centers had lured workers through their false promises.

“It was through Facebook and it was announced that they would be sent to work in Korea and get better wages,” Sunrith said.

Judge Reth Kunthea said the trial would continue on January 21.

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