October 6, 2022

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

Within these hubs, workers lured and trafficked from neighboring countries are forced to carry out these scams through various online channels. However, as part of a recent national breaking up against what Cambodian government officials have called “illegal gambling,” at least some of the building complexes believed to contain these cryptocurrency-based financial scams disturbed last days, experts say.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Sar Kheng, Cambodia’s interior minister, said 176 people had been arrested in connection with a series of raids involving eight nationalities. U statement issued by the provincial government of Preah Sihanouk on Sunday, authorities said they found four guns, 804 computers, 16 laptops, 36 passports, four pairs of handcuffs, eight electric batons, two “electric torches” and nearly 9,000 phones in the raid.

People trapped in these compounds often come from Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, among other nearby countries, with the promise of high-paying jobs. However, when they arrive in Cambodia, they are forced to trick people online, sometimes with the threat of violence.

Bilce Tan, a 41-year-old Malaysian, says he saw a job ad online in April that caught his attention. The job, for a management position in Cambodia at a digital marketing firm, reportedly paid 12,000 ringgit, or roughly $2,700 a month. That’s about six times the average salary in his home country, according to according to the latest figures from the Department of Statistics Malaysia.

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

“Until their primary owners are brought to justice, these scam factories will continue and metastasize to other countries.” They are still too lucrative.”

Jan Santiago, Deputy Director, Global Anti-Scam Organization

Some Cambodian experts are not convinced that the recent government crackdown marks the final end to years of massive fraud operations in the Southeast Asian country.

“It becomes a diplomatic embarrassment for a country that appears to have criminal elements running a sovereign operation in economic zones,” said Sophal Ear, a Cambodian-American professor at Arizona State University. Forbes.

Similarly, Jan Santiago, deputy director of the Global Anti-Scam Organization, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, said he doesn’t expect it to significantly halt scam operations.

“It could temporarily disrupt cyber fraud activity from Cambodia,” he said in a text message. “Until their primary owners are brought to justice, these scam factories will continue and metastasize to other countries.” They are still too lucrative.”

On Tuesday, the Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob he said that his government is “very concerned” about the issue and “takes seriously the plight of Malaysians stuck in several countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia”. The prime minister also encouraged Malaysians to be “careful of overseas job offers”.

Last month, Keng, Cambodia’s interior minister, said ua statement that the Cambodian government rescued 865 foreign victims between January 1 and August 20 and referred 60 people for prosecution.

“On behalf of the Royal Government and the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, I deeply regret and strongly condemn these inhumane acts,” he wrote. “Therefore, I appreciate and welcome any information from individuals, foreign diplomatic missions and embassies in Cambodia about the above cases.”

Cambodia’s increased efforts to tackle human trafficking come just weeks after the US State Department degraded Cambodia in its annual report “Trafficking in Persons”, which was published in July.

The document concluded that the Cambodian government “failed to investigate or prosecute any officials involved in the vast majority of credible reports of complicity, particularly with unscrupulous business owners who trafficked thousands of men, women and children across the country in entertainment institutions, brick kilns and online scams.”

Virak Ou, founder and chairman of Future Forum, a Cambodian think tank, said the government in Phnom Penh was now facing a “foreign relations nightmare”.

“I don’t think the Cambodian government understands the magnitude of the fraud and other harsh realities of human trafficking and money laundering that are going on,” he said in a text message.

Therarith Chan contributed to the Khmer translation.

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