A senior Chinese diplomat in Cambodia has met Sihanoukville’s governor and local police ahead of a likely major crackdown on online gambling and telephony scam operations that have enslaved thousands of foreign workers.
Hu Wei, director of the Chinese Embassy’s consular section, met on Sunday (February 20) with provincial Governor Kuoch Chamroeun and Brigadier General Heng Bunty, commander of the Sihanoukville Provincial Gendarmerie, to discuss forthcoming action against operations involving Chinese nationals, the Cambodia China Times reported on Monday.
A Khmer-language provincial government statement on Sunday announcing the meeting made no mention of proliferating cases of foreign workers being tricked into working for online gaming and scam syndicates, or that the Chinese side discussed the matter with the governor.
However, the Chinese-language Cambodia China Times reported that the “focus of the discussions was to facilitate deeper understanding on how to crack down on all forms of criminal activity in Sihanoukville Province involving Chinese nationals”.
The meeting follows the latest Chinese Embassy warning to its nationals on February 16 that advised against such employment, noting a new case of a Chinese man who had been “duped by a phony job advertisement” into working for gangs running online gambling and telephony scams in Sihanoukville.
One gang that took ownership of the man, surnamed Li, forcibly drew blood from him over several months before he was admitted to hospital in Phnom Penh in a critical condition, the embassy statement said.
It added that Cambodian and Chinese police are coordinating an investigation into the case.
Since the banning of foreign-facing online gambling operations at the end of 2019, gaming hub Sihanoukville has transformed into a hub for illegal online and scam operations. The criminal outfits have increasingly relied on the imprisonment of and trading in foreign workers, including from Southeast Asia.
Despite independent local media identification of heavily guarded building precincts where trapped foreign nationals are tortured and sometimes die or commit suicide, and despite the properties being linked to big-name entrepreneurs, police have acted slowly and not conducted sweeping operations.
Enslavement of foreign workers has been reported for years, but is now occurring more frequently in other locations in Cambodia, including the capital Phnom Penh, border casino towns and more obscure locations as criminal syndicates downsize and spread out to avoid police scrutiny.