Cambodia arrests nearly 400 over telecoms fraud

Chinese nationals suspected of telecom fraud are escorted into a bus to an airport in Preah Sihanouk province, awaiting deportation to China, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 26, 2017. (Reuters file photo)

PHNOM PENH — Cambodian authorities have arrested nearly 400 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals this month on suspicion of operating a telecoms scam to defraud victims in China, police said on Thursday.

The arrests are part of a regional crackdown as China battles telephone and internet scams that have cost billions of dollars in financial losses.

Scams have targeted everyone from the elderly, the students and the unemployed to businessmen involved in legal problems. Scammers based overseas often pose as some kind of government official.

Police in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Wednesday arrested 225 Chinese nationals, including 25 women, suspected of an extortion scheme using internet voice call technology, said Thou Saroeun, deputy director of the anti-terrorism police department.

“We are processing the case and we don’t know yet when this will move to deportation,” Thou Saroeun told Reuters, without elaborating.

On Aug 2, police arrested 151 Chinese and three Taiwanese nationals in the provinces of Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, Uk Heisela, the investigations chief of the immigration department, told Reuters.

Authorities in Beijing accuse Taiwan of harbouring criminal gangs behind many of the scams that have targeted victims on the mainland.

Cambodia is one of China’s closest allies in Southeast Asia and does not recognise the government of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.

In recent years, it has deported more than 600 Chinese and Taiwanese to China after arresting them on suspicion of telecoms scams.

Since 2011, Taiwan and mainland China have cooperated in investigating telecoms fraud in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere. Thousands of suspects, many from Taiwan, have been arrested since.

Last month, police in Indonesia said they had detained more than 150 Chinese nationals accused of a scam that had brought them an estimated $450 million by tricking victims into paying to make legal cases go away.

Some of the suspects arrested in Cambodia will be sent to China this week, Uk Heisela said.

“I don’t know when exactly, that depends on when China sends a plane,” he added.

Last month, Cambodia deported 105 Chinese and Taiwanese suspects to China, prompting a protest from the self-ruled island to Phnom Penh. Authorities in Taiwan have accused Cambodia of acting at China’s behest.

China has defended the deportations of people from Taiwan to China from places like Cambodia by saying the victims were all in China and so the criminals should face justice in China. 

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