March 31, 2023

In recent years, Cambodia has hosted high-rise compounds — many built in Chinese-run “special economic zones” — that human rights advocates say serve in part as quasi-factories for online financial fraud carried out against victims across Asia and, increasingly, the United States. Forbes recently profiled a California-based scam victim who lost more than $1 million in what’s known as a “pig butcher” scam, where a fraudster builds a long-term relationship with their victim before convincing them to invest money in a cryptocurrency scheme.

Within these hubs, these scams are conducted through various online channels of lured and trafficked workers from neighboring countries. However, as a recent part of nationwide Dr Crackdown Fighting what Cambodian government officials call “illegal gambling,” at least some of the building complexes are believed to be home to the cryptocurrency-fueled financial scam. interrupted In recent days, experts say.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng said 176 people from eight nationalities had been arrested in a series of massive raids. A statement Issued by the Priya Sihanouk provincial government on Sunday, authorities said the raids recovered four guns, 804 computers, 16 laptops, 36 passports, four pairs of handcuffs, eight electric batons, two “electric shock torches” and about 9,000 phones. .

People trapped in these compounds often come from Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia with promises of high-paying jobs from other nearby countries. However, once in Cambodia, they are made to scam people online, sometimes with threats of violence.

Bilce Tan, a 41-year-old Malaysian man, said he saw an online job ad in April that caught his attention. This job is going to pay 12,000 ringgit or about $2,700 per month for a managerial position at a digital marketing firm in Cambodia. This is almost six times the average salary in his country. According to The most recent information from the Department of Statistics Malaysia.

Tan said Forbes He was held in the Sihanoukville compound for several weeks earlier this year, before managing to escape, noting that he was not very good at scamming people. But he described 10 phones, two computers and “seven or eight fake accounts to communicate with those victims.”

“Unless their primary owners are brought to justice, these fraudulent factories will continue to operate and metastasize to other countries. They are still very profitable.”

Jan Santiago, Deputy Director, Global Anti-Scam Organization

Some experts on Cambodia are not convinced that the government’s recent crackdown marks a definitive end to years of widespread fraud operations in the Southeast Asian country.

“This is becoming a diplomatic embarrassment for a country that harbors criminal elements that are conducting sovereign operations in economic zones,” said Sophal Yar, a Cambodian-American professor at Arizona State University. Forbes.

Similarly, Jan Santiago, deputy director of the Los Angeles-based Global Anti-Scam Organization, an advocacy group, said he doesn’t expect it to significantly curb scamming activities.

“This may temporarily disrupt cyber scamming activities from Cambodia,” he said in a text message. “Unless their primary owners are brought to justice, these fraudulent factories will continue to operate and metastasize to other countries. They are still very profitable.”

Malaysian Prime Minister on Tuesday Ismail Sabri Yakub said that his government was “very concerned” about the matter and “takes seriously the plight of Malaysians stranded in several countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.” The Prime Minister also encouraged Malaysians to be “wary of job offers abroad”.

Cambodian Interior Minister Kheng A spoke last month statement That the Cambodian government rescued 865 foreign victims and referred 60 for prosecution between January 1 and August 20.

“On behalf of the Royal Government and the National Committee on Counter-Trafficking, I am deeply saddened and strongly condemn this inhuman act,” he wrote. “Therefore, I appreciate and welcome any information from individuals, foreign diplomatic missions and Cambodian embassies in the said case.”

Cambodia’s increased efforts against human trafficking come weeks after the US State Department downgrade Cambodia in its annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, which was issued in July.

That document concluded that the Cambodian government “has not investigated or held criminally accountable any officials involved in the majority of credible allegations, particularly with unscrupulous business owners who have trafficked thousands of men, women and children across the country. Entertainment establishments, brick kilns and online in scam operations.”

Virak Ou, founder and president of the Cambodian think tank Future Forum, said Phnom Penh’s government now faces a “foreign relations nightmare”.

“I don’t think the Cambodian government understands the scale of the scandal and other harsh realities of smuggling and money laundering that are happening,” he said via text message.

Theriath Chan contributed to the Khmer-language translation.

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