Thailand, Myanmar Junta Cut Power To Online Gambling Hubs

June 8, 2023
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The Thai government has cut the electricity supply to an infamous online gambling and scam syndicate precinct in Myanmar, triggering a local army’s threat to shut down nearby border crossings.

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The Thai government has cut the electricity supply to an infamous online gambling and scam syndicate precinct in Myanmar, triggering a local army’s threat to shut down nearby border crossings.

Thailand’s Provincial Electrical Authority (PEA) on Tuesday (June 6) shut down the power supply to the Shwe Kokko area, an ethnic Chinese-backed gambling and organised crime base north of Myawaddy, and a second border town in Myanmar to the south.

Thai interior minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters on Tuesday that Myanmar’s ruling junta requested that the power be cut to the two areas in tandem with its own shutting down of electricity supply to the area.

Anupong did not discuss the targeting of the two locations controlled by the army of the Karen National Union (KNU), a loose ally of the Myanmar government, other than noting that a power contract for these locations expired this week.

However, on May 31, the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai urged Myanmar deputy prime minister and home affairs minister Soe Htut to crack down on gambling and online scam operations in the Myanmar border areas.

Shwe Kokko hosts the Yatai International City project, a KNU-backed precinct that attracts billions of dollars in investment that was previously operated by ethnic Chinese entrepreneur She Zhijiang as a base for online gambling and other illegal activity. She was arrested by Thai police in August 2022 and was set to be deported to China.

The second location to lose its electricity supply is Lay Kay Kaw (Le Le Ko in Thai media). Satellite photos of the town show extensive riverside construction of buildings and other infrastructure similar to that of Shwe Kokko.

However, the online geopolitical analysis hub The Diplomat reported that Lay Kay Kaw, while also under the control of the KNU, has become a haven of sorts for anti-government operatives and democracy activists since Myanmar’s military coup in 2021.

The KNU responded to initial warnings of electricity severance by threatening to close two vital bridges connecting Myawaddy, the largest town in the area, with the Thai town of Mae Sot.

The bridges are yet to be affected, according to Thai and Myanmar media reports this week.

“There was a power cut at 12:05am,” Mae Sot district chief Somchai Trithipchartsakul told Radio Free Asia affiliate Benar News on Tuesday.

“The situation at [the Friendship Bridges] is still normal — people are still able to send goods across the local two bridges,” he said. “Goods can be transported normally, everything is running as usual.”

The Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday that forewarned residents of the two areas are operating generators in lieu of a reliable power supply, but it was not immediately clear if gambling operations were interrupted by the blackout.

The Post also cited Thai security sources as saying that local residents in Myanmar are “accustomed to living without electricity”, but that ethnic Chinese investment will be affected, possibly leading to a migration of investment and associated workforces across the border into Mae Sot.

The criminalisation of border areas in Southeast Asia through online gambling and scam syndicate operations accelerated after Cambodia said in late 2019 that it would ban foreign-facing online gambling operations, similarly at the behest of the Chinese government.

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