Posted on: September 13, 2021, 10:04h.
Last updated on: September 13, 2021, 10:19h.
Cambodian authorities arrested 15 people over the weekend following a raid on a casino in the southwest coastal city of Sihanoukville, during which shots were fired at police.
Inside the building on Ocheatel Beach, police said 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.
The suspects fired six shots as officers approached the building, authorities said. An AK47 assault rifle, an M4 assault rifle, two K54 handguns, one K59 handgun, and one CF98 handgun were seized at the property.
Authorities said the suspects, 14 males and one female, were all Chinese nationals, and some were heavily tattooed in the manner of triad gangsters.
They added the raid was conducted in response to recent articles by Cambodian English-language newspaper The Khmer Times.
The Times has documented accounts given by four Filipino women who claimed they had been kept captive at a complex in Sihanoukville. The media also reported that scores of others remain held against their will by a suspected organized crime syndicate.
The victims said they received training as “con artists,” meaning internet scammers, for which they received small salaries and were beaten when they performed their work poorly.
Those who did their jobs well were given illegal drugs as “perks.” Sometimes the criminal gang rewarded male workers with sex with women who had been trafficked into prostitution, they added.
Following the publication of the women’s account, more people contacted the Times to say they had been victimized. Among those trapped working for the gang are Thai, Bangladeshi, Indian, Russian, Ukrainian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Turkish nationals, according to reports.
The four Filipino women were kept at a complex in Otres Beach. But the Times believes there are several compounds involved which could potentially house hundreds of workers. Each complex is well-guarded with private security guards, and Times reporters have been denied access.
Officials said over the weekend they were planning more raids and crackdowns on organized crime. They hoped the interrogation of the 15 suspects would inform their next move.
Wild West of the East
Chinese investment has transformed the once sleepy seaside town of Sihanoukville into a casino mecca in just a few years. The speed of change has overwhelmed many of the locals, who are largely excluded from the industry.
Cambodians are forbidden from gambling in their own country, and most of the service jobs in the casinos go to Mandarin speakers.
Meanwhile, weak regulations and local corruption have made Sihanoukville a magnet for organized crime.