Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Alleged Cambodian Scam Operators Sanctioned by the UK, US, and Canada

K.B Hotel was identified as an online scam center in Sihanoukville. Photo from K.B Hotel’s Facebook page posted on July 20, 2023.
K.B Hotel was identified as an online scam center in Sihanoukville. Photo from K.B Hotel’s Facebook page posted on July 20, 2023.

The UK, US and Canada announced a package of sanctions against Cambodian individuals and entities, freezing their assets and travel, as a result of alleged human rights violations, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10. 

“We will not tolerate criminals and repressive regimes trampling on the fundamental rights and freedoms of ordinary people around the world,” the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, said. “I am clear that 75 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UK and our allies will continue to relentlessly pursue those who would deny people their freedom.” 

According to the announcement, the UK and its allies issued sweeping sanctions targeting individuals linked to human rights abuses around the world. In this region, 14 individuals and entities were sanctioned for alleged forced labor schemes said to be operating in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

A British embassy spokesperson told CamboJA that the UK uses sanctions, which are among other diplomatic tools, to fulfill a range of purposes, and would continue to consider a range of approaches to achieve their foreign policy objectives globally. 

“These designations target perpetrators involved in ‘forced scamming’ where victims who have been trafficked into the region, often under the false pretense of well-paid jobs, are subsequently forced to scam victims around the world through cyber fraud centers,” the spokesperson said. “The victims are often subject to torture and/or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment within the centers.” 

In Cambodia, six individuals and entities were sanctioned for their alleged links to forced labor schemes. They comprise Heng He Casino, K.B Hotel, Pacific Real Estate Management Co, Hum Sovanny, Dong Lecheng, and Golden Sun Sky Entertainment Co Ltd. 

K.B Hotel was known as one of the major “underground” parks that allegedly engaged in illegal online activities in Cambodia, together with “Jinshui”. In August last year, Hong Kong media HK01 reported that the mastermind behind Jinshui was Dong Lecheng, a Yunnan-based entrepreneur who founded Yunnan Jingcheng Group Co Ltd. He is one of the most well-known Chinese investors in Cambodia. 

In September 2018, Dong Lecheng signed a cooperation agreement with arrested Macau tycoon Alvin Chau, the founder of Suncity Group, to jointly invest $360 million to develop an entertainment city in Sihanoukville. At the same time, Suncity entered into a strategic partnership agreement with Cambodian firm Golden Sun Sky Entertainment to build an integrated resort in Sihanoukville.

Both K.B Hotel and Golden Sun Sky Entertainment Co Ltd did not respond to CamboJA’s questions via email – contact details which were found in their business registrations on the Ministry of Commerce website. 

The sanctions underline the UK’s continued commitment to deter malignant activities around the world. These sanctions are often used as part of a broader political strategy and are designed to “effect change, pressurize, and send a clear signal regarding particular behaviors”, the embassy spokesperson explained. 

“Cambodia and Cambodians are victims of these operations, therefore the cases should be investigated fully and perpetrators brought to justice to deter future operations,” they added.

Meanwhile, Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told CamboJA that sanctions by the UK, US, and Canada on online scam companies do not have an impact in terms of reducing online scam operations in Cambodia.

“If we talk about the law, British law does not have any legal influence on Cambodia. Cambodia is not a colony [under] the British [government]. Cambodia is working hard by itself to reduce (the scams),” Sopheak said, adding that the authorities have taken legal action on those connected to online scam operations in Cambodia.

That said, he welcomed the cooperation of countries to reduce online scams in Cambodia.

Last September, the UN released a report stating that at least 100,000 people have been forced to carry out online scams in Cambodia. However, officials requested for more evidence to support this estimate, previously asking, “Where are they?”

Wesley Holzer, US embassy spokesperson, told CamboJA via email that reports by NGOs and the government highlighted forced criminality as a key element of cyber scam operations and that many of those carrying out scams are victims of trafficking for forced labor. 

“The US works with a variety of stakeholders around the world, including Cambodia, to encourage governments to prevent human trafficking, protect victims, and hold accountable not only human traffickers but also individuals that enable trafficking,” Holzer said. 

He added that the US fully supports the UK efforts to ensure justice for all victims and accountability for those who are complicit in this “horrific crime”.

Am Sam Ath, operation director at the human rights group Licadho, told CamboJA that the sanctions would contribute to reducing online scams in Cambodia as they are being monitored from those countries.

He observed that the government is putting an effort to end online scams but they should strengthen their efficiency in preventing their growth by enforcing the law and providing technology skills for officers.