Massive Online Gaming, Fraud, Human Trafficking Compound Raided in Cambodia

A joint task force comprised of Cambodian and Chinese law enforcement raided a compound in Phnom Penh on Friday, seizing equipment connected to illegal online gaming and internet fraud.

Human trafficking
Human trafficking
A man suspected of operating internet scams is deported to China by Cambodian authorities. (Image: Vann Soben/FT)

More than 200 people were detained at the large, gated complex in the Sen Sok area of the Cambodian capital. These included Chinese, Vietnamese, and other nationals, most of whom are believed to be victims of trafficking and extortion.

The news comes amid an alarming number of accounts of similar compounds in the land-locked Communist country which are believed to be controlled by Chinese criminal gangs. These criminals confiscate victims’ passports and force them to work in sophisticated internet scams, according to the reports.

Last week, police in the southwest coastal city of Sihanoukville were met with a volley of gunfire as they raided another gated compound. Inside, they found evidence of illegal online gambling and cryptocurrency scamming activities, as well as possible cross-border people trafficking, bonded slave labor, and sex trafficking.

Trapped by Pandemic

Meanwhile, a report published this week by the Thompson Reuters Foundation found that foreign workers and tourists stranded in Cambodia because of the COVID-19 pandemic have become easy prey for trafficking gangs. The country’s land borders are closed and flights out are few and far between.

The foundation interviewed nine trafficking victims who said they had been lured by social media advertisements with the promise of well-paid jobs. Instead, they were holed up in shuttered hotel casinos and guarded compounds. There, they were forced to create fake social media profiles to entice people into online gambling and crypto scams. Those who complained who performed poorly were threatened or beaten.

A member of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security spoke to Cambodian English language newspaper the Khmer Times about Friday’s raid on condition of anonymity.

It has a large yard, mini mart and a restaurant inside to cater to the occupants of the building,” he said. “Another building appears to be under construction and the Cambodian police have done a great job of nabbing all those in the compound. The entire perimeter of the building had a two-meter-high wall and four layers of razor wire on top.”

“Interrogations are continuing and once completed, we hope the results will be shared with us to enable us to establish several key facts such as are whether they wanted in China for criminal or organised crime activities and if they are members of triads,” he added.

Police are trying to trace the owner of the compound and to determine whether it was let to anyone else.

Going Underground

Several years ago, Cambodia had a burgeoning licensed online gambling industry, mainly targeted China, where online gambling is illegal. But it caved into pressure from its powerful biggest trading partner, banning the industry from September 2019.

This has pushed online gambling underground into the hands of criminal elements, who sideline in crypto fraud and phishing. The ban has also made it difficult for operators to recruit workers legitimately. It’s believed some of these operations are protected by bribing officials in the notoriously corrupt country.

Last week, Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi brought up the issue of online gambling and related criminal activities with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, according to the Khmer Times.

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