Chinese scam suspects took over 11-storey block in Cambodia
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Prak Chan Thul
19 August 2017
stand at a condo where they arrested dozens of young Chinese men and
women working on a call centre to carry out a telephone and internet
scam on victims in China in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 18, 2017. Samrang Pring
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - No sooner had the 11-storey apartment building
in Phnom Penh's affluent Tuol Kouk district been finished than dozens
of young Chinese men and women moved in loaded with desks and laptops,
"I thought they were moving an office in," said Eng Somnang, 20, who
owns a noodle soup shop directly opposite and watched them arrive early
Police in the Cambodian capital accuse them of doing exactly that:
setting up a criminal call centre with more than 200 Chinese nationals
to carry out a telephone and internet scam on victims in China.
Police raided the building on Wednesday to stop what they said was the
latest operation of a type that has duped people out of billions of
dollars - with scammers operating from countries that have good
internet access and relaxed visa rules.
From a balcony of the building in Phnom Penh, some of the suspects told
Reuters they had not been given food and police were not allowing them
One of the suspects, Fang, 30, from China, said she came to Cambodia on
a tourist visa. She said there were more than 200 people inside the
building but declined to answer questions about what they had been
Police said they had arrested 225 Chinese nationals, 25 of them women,
on suspicion of using internet voice calls for an extortion scheme.
They will be sent to China to face justice, police investigators said.
Since 2011, Cambodia has deported 800 people from mainland China and Taiwan, arrested on suspicion of telecoms scams.
Neighbours in Tuol Kouk, dotted with large villas, described the
occupants of the building as quiet. They said it had been rented out to
tenants for $25,000 a month. The owner was not available to comment.
The occupants kept to themselves, venturing out only at night to get food, neighbours said.
"They were mostly men, some women. Maybe 20, 23 years old. Young," said
Eng Somnang. "When people delivered food to them they were not allowed
In the past, Chinese fraud suspects have often entered Cambodia on
tourist visas, said Uk Haisela, chief of investigation at Cambodia's
The victims of the scammers were often civil servants and retired officials from mainland China, he said.
One of the suspected telephone fraudsters who Uk Haisela interrogated said he made up to $70,000 per week.
Uk Haisela said victims ere sometimes blackmailed and the suspects used
Cambodia because it was easy to stay in the country and internet speeds
Cambodia was able to track the gangs with help from China, he said.
"China sends IP addresses to us ... Once we make arrests, we report to the Chinese embassy," Uk Haisela told Reuters.
China's Foreign Ministry said there had always been close cooperation with Cambodia.
"China appreciates Cambodia's cooperation with China on jointly
cracking down on telecoms fraud and other cross-border crime," it said
in a statement.
The scams have become a headache for both China and Taiwan, bringing
cooperation between them, but also objections from Taiwan because of
the deportation of suspects from the self-ruled island to face trial on
Suspected scammers have been arrested elsewhere in Asia and Asia.
This month, 77 Chinese fraud suspects were sent to China from Fiji.
More than 150 were detained in Indonesia over a scam that police said
had netted about $450 million.
Scammers choose countries where they think law enforcement is weak and
governments are unlikely to see them as a priority, said Lennon Chang,
a criminologist and expert in telecoms fraud at Monash University in
"We might be able to call them criminal nomads," he told Reuters, saying they moved every couple of weeks.
The fraudsters sometimes posed as officials and tricked people into disclosing bank account details, he said.
"The leaders are not easy to discover. All are young kids. Even if the
crime syndicates are discovered and dissolved, the leaders will be able
to start a new group in a short period of time."
(Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in
BANGKOK and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre;
Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel)
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