Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Dozens of Vietnamese Questioned By Police After Allegedly Seeking Escape from Bavet Casino

Dozens of Vietnamese people allegedly trapped inside a casino building in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet city, July 19, 2023; the photo has been cropped by CamboJA. (National Police website)
Dozens of Vietnamese people allegedly trapped inside a casino building in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet city, July 19, 2023; the photo has been cropped by CamboJA. (National Police website)

Police removed dozens of Vietnamese nationals from a Bavet city casino after a video on Facebook showed them allegedly calling for help, according to a Wednesday National Police report.

“Police have questioned 35 employees [Vietnamese national] who have said that they protested and sought intervention related to work conditions,” the report stated.

Keo Serei Sothea, Bavet city’s anti-human trafficking police bureau chief, confirmed the report’s details and said two of the casino’s management officials are being questioned by provincial police.

The Vietnamese nationals were removed from the Oriental Paris Casino in Svay Rieng province following the incident on July 18. The sixth floor was rented by a Chinese national to operate an unspecified business, according to Bavet city police chief Em Sovanrith.

“I don’t know their business because I have not asked for details about their jobs,” Sovanrith said. “I had only asked about damaging properties.”

Two videos published on Thursday by local media Koh Santepheap show a group of men and women on a balcony waving their arms and shouting, while the people recording the video from afar indicate they are seeking help. A large crowd had gathered on the street below.

Photos from inside the casino, shared in the police report, show overturned tables, a tangle of cables and fallen computers.

A photo published by National Police showing the inside of the Paris Orient Casino after workers allegedly protested their working conditions.

“After questioning they [employees] said they were angry that the owner has not paid their salary, and they were angry not to change a supervisor who has restricted their work and threatened to cut salary, and they protested to lock doors and hit the mirror,” Sovanrith said.

An employee of a shop within sight of the casino, who declined to be named due security concerns, told CamboJA that he went out to watch the incident after hearing yelling from the casino’s upper floors.

“People heard screams from the building,” he said. “They were trapped…” 

“Around 15 people [in the building] screamed to get help from others,” he added.

A security guard stood in front of the entrance of the building, and “the authorities could not enter the casino building,” the shop employee said. “I wonder why the police can’t go into the casino to help them immediately?”

The shop employee said he believed the casino was a site of scam operations and said this was common for Bavet. Numerous reports have documented alleged scams, trafficking and crime linked to casino complexes in Bavet. In April, a woman working at a nearby casino with a “call center” was found beheaded.

The shop employee said that “there are always cases of kidnappings and online scams” in Bavet and he claimed that authorities usually dismiss them by saying it is a labor dispute.

Sovanrith, the city’s police chief, said police had not been able to enter immediately because the casino’s security guard could not find a remote to open that gate.

“The security guard told us to jump the gate, and later he couldn’t find a remote key,” he said. “It does not mean he has banned us from entering, because he couldn’t find a key immediately.”

Oriental Paris Casino does not have a license to operate, said Ros Phirun, secretary general of the Commercial Gambling Management Commission of Cambodia.

“It is illegal and that name has no license,” he said.

The company which owns the Oriental Paris casino could not be identified. 

However, Commerce Ministry records include a company called Oriental Paris Investment, which lists Li Tao as its director. 

Li Tao is the former director of the Union Development Group, a company sanctioned by the US in 2019 for human rights abuses. The Union Development Group also runs the Dara Sakor special economic zone in Koh Kong province, where numerous reports of human trafficking linked to scam operations have emerged.

Oriental Paris Investment and Li Tao could not be reached for comment.

The Oriental Paris Casino has experienced other problems, such as when a fire broke out in March, which authorities said was the result of an electrical issue, local media reported.

In 2019, a Chinese chat forum shared a photo of a bleeding woman and reported that “a group of Cambodian security guards [from Oriental Paris casino] chased and beat our compatriots with sticks in their hands until our compatriots were bleeding!”

Vice chairperson of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking Chou Bun Eng and National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun did not respond to requests for comment.

Chiv Phally, deputy director general of the National Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking unit could not be reached for comment.