Cambodia deported four Japanese citizens Wednesday, with three suspected of involvement in online scam operations, according to Japanese and Cambodian officials. In Preah Vihear, 19 Chinese citizens were also arrested this week.
Three Japanese citizens were found in Sihanoukville and were arrested in Japan in relation to a “fraud case,” counselor of the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh Miyoshi Asagi wrote in a Telegram message. The fourth was found in Pailin, and Asagi stated she did not have more information on this individual. “I cannot provide further detail since the investigation is going on,” she said.
Japanese publication The Mainichi Shimbun reported Wednesday that the three arrested men are in their 20s and are suspected of participating in wire fraud, including recruiting partners on social media. The article states the men are accused of defrauding a Japanese woman in her 70s out of about $6,800 by posing as her son on the phone in December. Officials became aware of the situation after a man suspected of taking cash from a woman was arrested by Japanese police. Japanese police arrested the men on an airplane en route to Tokyo on Wednesday.
General Department of Immigration Police spokesperson Keo Vanthan confirmed that the four deportations happened this week. He advised CamboJA to contact the National Police for more information, saying the National Police conducted the arrest while Immigration Police only “organized the procedure to deport them.”
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun declined a request for comment.
Preah Vihear provincial authorities also reported arrests of 19 Chinese citizens this week in three separate cases.
On Tuesday, the 105 Battalion Border Police arrested seven Chinese citizens as they attempted to cross the Mekong River from Laos to Cambodia, according to Chhep district deputy police chief Sim Say. Authorities received reports from local residents while patrolling the area. Say’s unit accompanied the suspects to the provincial police headquarters for questioning.
“There have been many cases [like this] and it keeps happening. When the inspections from authorities become less vigilant, they [criminals] start to sneak across [the border] to our side,” he said.
Din Sidareth, Preah Vihear deputy provincial police chief, told CamboJA an additional eight people were arrested in a second case this week, but was not certain of what date this occurred. Four more arrests were made in a third case on Thursday. He declined to give additional details and referred further questions to Preah Vihear provincial police spokesperson Chhay Borin, who did not answer multiple phone calls from a CamboJA reporter.
A September UN report stated that at least 100,000 people have been forced to carry out online scams in Cambodia. Cambodia has become a destination where foreign victims are trafficked to, the report states. The 2023 US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report ranked Cambodia for the second year in a row as a Tier 3 country, the lowest ranking, for not making “serious and sustained” efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking. After first denying the growth of the online scam industry in Cambodia, government officials have repeatedly said Cambodia is cracking down on human trafficking.
In November, 25 Japanese nationals were deported for allegedly running an online scam, after National Police raided D.B.Ly Tower in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district.
Am Sam Ath, operations director for the human rights NGO Licadho, said it was relatively rare to see Japanese citizens arrested for crimes in Cambodia, making the recent deportations concerning. Since the pandemic began, Cambodia has become a destination for criminals to carry out human trafficking, fraud and drug crimes, he said. He added that law enforcement has taken limited action against these crimes, and Cambodia needs to increase international cooperation to deal with the issue effectively.
“[Corruption] allows these things to happen, so the most important thing is for Cambodia to further strengthen prevention efforts and crack down on human trafficking and illegal border crossings,” he said.