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Cambodia deports 130 Chinese after mass cybercrime arrests

Reports say more suspects would be extradited to China in batches
This photo taken on Sept. 25, 2022, shows pedestrians walking past a casino building previously shut down by the police, in Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province. Dozens of casinos sprang up in Sihanoukville following Chinese investment, making the city a hub for gamblers and drawing in international crime.

This photo taken on Sept. 25, 2022, shows pedestrians walking past a casino building previously shut down by the police, in Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province. Dozens of casinos sprang up in Sihanoukville following Chinese investment, making the city a hub for gamblers and drawing in international crime. (Photo: AFP) 

Published: April 16, 2024 06:51 AM GMT
Updated: April 16, 2024 07:12 AM GMT

Cambodia has deported the first batch of 700 suspected Chinese cyber scammers arrested in the southern port city of Sihanoukville after two joint operations in March by local and Beijing-backed law enforcement agencies.

Some 130 were quietly deported through Phnom Penh Airport on April 13 — seen handcuffed, wearing blue vests and with face masks on and escorted by Chinese police — when the capital had effectively shut down for Khmer New Year celebrations.

“This marks the first batch of suspects jointly targeted for extradition by the law enforcement agencies of both countries in the crackdown on gambling and fraud-related crimes this year,” the Chinese government mouthpiece, China Daily, said.

It also reported public security authorities as saying more Chinese suspects would be extradited to China in batches. The suspects arrived at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, Hubei province, on two chartered flights operated by Chinese civil aviation.

“In recent years, in order to crack down on transnational gambling, telecom fraud, and other crimes, the Chinese and Cambodian law enforcement authorities have closely cooperated and achieved a series of results,” it said.

The 700 were arrested at the Thmor Yeak Beach Resort and Chan Krasnaa Resort and followed a similar crackdown on Chinese nationals, at the behest of Beijing, in Laos and Myanmar.

Cambodia has been accused of being too soft on organized crime — fearing it will frighten tourists away from its south coast, white sand beaches — and insisted the media had exaggerated claims by victims of human trafficking in Sihanoukville, a notorious hub for organized crime.

This was despite a United Nations report saying that about 100,000 people have been forced to carry out online scams from Cambodia, an industry worth about US$12.5 billion a year. Embassy sources in Phnom Penh say that its real annual value is closer to US$20 billion.

However, China has pushed the crackdown on cybercrime after many of its citizens were duped by false job offers and forced to work out of scam compounds. Observers also say China is withholding much-needed investment dollars until the issue has been dealt with effectively.

The latest arrests were the largest made on Cambodian soil and the deportations went unreported by Cambodia’s state-run media, which is overwhelming amid a lack of independent reporting.

However, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said Chinese and Cambodian police have intensified their cooperation to combat prominent crimes such as cross-border gambling and telecom scams.

“This led to a recent joint operation in the Southeast Asian country.

“During the operation, local police demolished criminal dens, captured a great number of suspects of Chinese nationality, and seized servers, computers, mobile phones and other tools believed to have been used for criminal purposes,” it said.

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