Days after police raided a company’s Sihanoukville compound, arresting 27 foreigners and stating that illegal gambling, human trafficking and other crimes were perpetrated there, the nation’s gambling commission granted the same firm a casino license.
The Commercial Gambling Management Commission gave licenses to four game of chance companies and 25 casino firms, including Bing Cheng International Entertainment, according to a statement dated Thursday.
Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities on Sunday said Bing Cheng was under investigation for various crimes, including illegal gambling, human trafficking, confinement, torture, illegal weapons possession, prostitution and money laundering.
Nearly 500 foreign nationals, many without work documents, were found by authorities at the Bing Cheng compound in Bei commune. Authorities confiscated nearly 9,000 mobile phones, over 800 computers and 12 data drives, plus several pistols, pairs of handcuffs and electric-stun batons.
The gambling commission also granted a license to Longbay Entertainment, which owns Longbay casino, the statement said.
The Philippines Embassy in Phnom Penh and local news outlet VOD have identified the Long Bay casino complex, located in Koh Kong province’s Union Development Group concession, as a site of confinement of foreign nationals, with VOD reporting
Ros Phirun, secretary general of the gambling commission, on Friday confirmed that the commission had granted casino licenses to Bing Cheng in Sihanoukville and Longbay in Koh Kong province, based on their proper legal documents.
“We have checked that there are not any legal issues obstructing the license,” he said. “Overall, the company is just a victim, and it is only used by criminals. Therefore, what we have licensed is in accordance with the law on commercial gambling.”
Still, Phirun said the commission would review the case of Bing Cheng since the license was processed before the police investigation of the firm.
“The license was granted before the police crackdown, and it was signed by the deputy prime minister [Minister of Economy Aun Pornmoniroth] in August,” he said. “However, we will review what has been raised related to the issues because I am also not fully aware of this. We may revoke those licenses.”
Cambodia currently has 86 licensed casinos, with 75 casino license applications pending, Phirun added.
Asked why Bing Cheng was issued a casino license while authorities were investigating it for various crimes, National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun declined to comment, saying the investigation was ongoing and police were not responsible for the issuance of casino licenses.
“I do not know. Ask the relevant parties,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk police chief Chuon Narin could not be reached on Friday. Provincial administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum did not answer a reporter’s specific questions about the Bing Cheng investigation and its casino license, referring the reporter to immigration authorities.
Immigration department spokesperson Keo Vannthan said foreign nationals who were detained after police raided the Bing Cheng compound last week, some 130 Chinese and 11 Vietnamese who entered Cambodia illegally, were being detained at the immigration police station while awaiting deportation.
Nearly 500 foreign nationals from four countries were found at the compound, including 262 people who were working in the country without work permits.
Asked about the government granting a casino license to a firm being investigated by authorities, Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told CamboJA, “It looks like authorities are not communicating.”
Douglas said his office had been “flagging the fact casinos region wide have been infiltrated by organized crime groups for money laundering for several years, and sharing related information.”
Sihanoukvile has become synonymous with reports of online scam compounds operated by organized crime groups that enslave people, mostly from China and around Southeast Asia, and force them to carry out scams estimated to have earned criminals billions of dollars by defrauding people around the world.
During the pandemic, Douglas said the gambling industry moved online, and some enterprises “pivoted and diversified into fraud and scam centres using the same workforce.”
Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco