Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Over 700 Chinese To Be Deported After Dramatic Sweep at Two Sihanoukville Resorts

Scores of Chinese nationals were arrested in Thmor Yeak Beach Resort located in Tumnob Rolok commune, Steung Hav district, Preah Sihanouk, pictured on March 28, 2024. (CamboJA/ Mech Dara)
Scores of Chinese nationals were arrested in Thmor Yeak Beach Resort located in Tumnob Rolok commune, Steung Hav district, Preah Sihanouk, pictured on March 28, 2024. (CamboJA/ Mech Dara)

Some 700 Chinese nationals were arrested in a joint China and Cambodia law enforcement operation last week, which cracked down on two online gambling and scam sites in Sihanouk province, according to a statement by the Chinese Embassy.

Director general of the Immigration Department Sok Veasna said the documents are being prepared to deport those arrested, but Cambodia and China have yet to “classify” the case in accordance with alleged criminal activities. 

“We need to classify them first but we have not finished questioning them as there are many of them,” he said.

Sihanouk police stormed the two locations, Thmor Yeak Beach Resort and Chan Krasnaa Resort, on March 26. The latest raid follows a two-day operation by the authorities in Sihanoukville earlier in the month that led to 479 arrests, including around 200 foreigners. 

The Chinese embassy said both governments will cooperate to vigorously pursue criminals until the crime network, allegedly connected to Chinese nationals in Cambodia, is “completely eradicated.” The Cambodian government has said repeatedly it is cracking down on scam operations, after initially denying the growth of scam compounds in the country. 

Last year, a UN report stated that at least 100,000 people were forced to carry out online scams in Cambodia. Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, told CamboJA News in September that it “was difficult to accept” the number, claiming that the report included the figure without evidence.

Kheang Phearum, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall spokesperson, said he could not comment on the case as it was being dealt with by the court. He referred further questions to provincial court spokesperson ​​Thuch Panhchasantepheap, who declined to comment.

Sok Phal, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior who has been assigned the task of ending illegal gambling in the country, referred further questions to the Immigration Department.  

Sar Ratha, Sihanouk Provincial police chief, said more than 600 foreigners of at least five nationalities were detained, primarily Chinese nationals. 

“We went down to implement the law on locations that have no license,” he said. “When they work in an illegal place, we will deport all of them whether they came legally or illegally to Cambodia.” 

Ratha did not provide an answer when asked who the owner of the compounds were, adding that it was not important whether the owner of the two locations was Chinese or Cambodian. 

Police officials and local officials either declined to say who owned the properties of the two locations, or said they did not know. Some local officials said a high ranking leader was the owner. The two commune chiefs of the locations of the two resorts alleged that the land belongs to Ke Kim Yan, a personal advisor to King Norodom Sihamoni with a rank equivalent to deputy prime minister. 

Kim Yan did not respond to a Telegram message or answer multiple phone calls made by a CambodJA reporter in time for publication. 

‘Paper cannot cover fire’

Two days after the raid, the blue gate in front of Thmor Yeak Beach Resort, located in the Tumnob Rolok commune in Village I near the highway, was flanked by five security guards.

“We can’t allow you [journalists] to go inside because the company is solving problems with the authorities. If I allowed you to go inside, they would fire me,” said one guard, who would not give his name, to a CamboJA reporter on March 28.

Ros Kei, Stung Hav district police chief, said that provincial authorities checked the compound of the building during the raid. District police officials were “not allowed” to participate in the raid conducted by provincial authorities, he said, and he was “not clear” on who owned the building. 

In the past, the public was able to enter the resort, but once construction started a few months ago things changed, Kei said.

“I do not know what is inside. I just know that they had fenced the area to prevent people from visiting it temporarily,” he added.

Vann Sam, Tumnob Rolok commune police chief, said provincial authorities working on the case came to the area on March 26 and said that the location was operating illegally.

The public used to be able to enter the resort but a few months ago it banned visitors from going inside, he added. New construction was completed in a couple of months and the resort began operating more than a month ago.

“The location was very tightly controlled and they didn’t allow us inside. It was impossible to go inside when it was under construction,” he said.

But the realities of the online scam happening inside the compound could not be hidden from locals living in the area, some of whom worked in the compound, according to Sam. “Paper cannot cover fire,” he said.  

“The owner of that land is a Cambodian. I just want to say that he is too powerful. There is no need to mention who. The owner has a very high [position]. He is not small,” Sam said.

A villager from Village I, who asked not to be named, said he had done some minor maintenance work a few times inside the newly operating Thmor Yeak Beach Resort. Inside the compound were buildings and also a ship along the shore. 

“I was inside there. It’s like a prison. For example, there is a fence to prevent them from going anywhere and security guards stationed everywhere,” he said.

“[The workers] never go out of the compound and they only stay inside where there are shops. They spend their money freely. They’re all Chinese but there are a few Cambodian women who translate for them,” he said. “We don’t know how many times they [the workers] have been sold.”

When the police arrived the morning of the raid, they first secured the location and the nearby forested area to prevent people from escaping, according to the villager. Journalists were not allowed to go inside or take pictures.

The authorities that came to raid the compound were not minor officials, “they were all big,” he said, and the shocked-looking security guards allowed them to enter the compound. 

The police and guards were stationed the entire day and evening on the day of the raid to guard the property, the man said. “[Workers] could not escape because it [the compound] is surrounded by water,” he noted.  

“I heard that there were many boxes filled with phones in there. We saw many buses passing. It was like a festival,” he said. “We also saw them [the police] tow a few luxury cars from the compound. We don’t know where they took them.”

Chan Krasnaa Resort, where Cambodian officials arrested hundreds of Chinese nationals, in Cheung Kou commune, Prey Nob district, Preah Sihanouk, pictured on March 28, 2024. (CamboJA/ Mech Dara)

‘Many were recaptured’

Chan Krasnaa Resort, in Prey Nob district, Cheung Kou commune, was also raided by authorities on March 26. Two days later, a few security guards continued to guard the location as a military police car drove around the compound and the nearby forested areas. 

Oung Vuthy, Prey Nob district police chief, said the provincial authorities arrived at the location for the raid and arrested many Chinese people living there. He estimated around 600 Chinese people worked at the facility, but declined to give more details, referring questions to the provincial authority. 

“I don’t have any clear [information] about [the owner]. I just know that it belongs to a leader. I don’t know which one,” said Hok Prim, Cheung Kou commune police chief. 

A shop vendor near Chan Krasnaa Resort said about 15 buses were used by the military police to transport the Chinese people from the compound. 

“Now it is very quiet, but when the authorities came, the place was chaotic,” she said.

Following the raid, local Cambodians who worked in the compound but had not been paid yet went inside to take wine, food, refrigerators and motorcycles, according to the woman.  Some Chinese workers still owed her money.

“How can we sell and who will I sell to because now it’s very quiet. No one received any payment because they arrested the Chinese people,” she said. “Many who bought my things owe me a lot of money, but what can I do about it?”

One of the construction workers, who asked not to be named for fear of getting in trouble with authorities, said he saw Chinese people being taken by immigration officers. The police arrived at the compound around noon, he said, and other local workers and guards later entered the compound to take things, which he did not dare to do. “I was afraid of being arrested,” he said. 

Police also searched for workers inside the homes of nearby construction workers and scoured the forest, finding several people, according to the construction worker. 

“When the police came, the Chinese people started to run all over the place. About 200 escaped but they were recaptured later by the police and security guards,” he said. “I also wondered why there were no media people covering it.”

During the raid, there were about 90 military police and provincial police in the area, with some observing the roads and others going into the forest, he added. 

“Only a few Chinese people could escape because they didn’t know the roads. Many were recaptured by the police and security,” he said. “If they knew the area, they could have ran into the rubber plantation and escaped through the expressway. But they did not know the police would come.”

‘Normal business’

The Facebook accounts for Chan Krasnaa Resort and Thmor Yeak Beach Resort both list the same contact phone number. When called by a CamboJA reporter on Monday, the woman who picked up the phone confirmed that both locations had been raided but declined to give her name

“I don’t know [much] about [what happened in] Thmor Yeak Resort because the authorities arrested all of them,” she said. 

“These locations belong to me but I rented them out to Chinese people two to three months ago,” she said. “In our contract, they [said they] wanted to build a normal construction.”

“We also stipulated in the contract that if they violate the law, we are not responsible for it,” she added. “They said they were renting to do normal business.” 

The woman said she did not know how many Chinese people were staying in the two resorts. She declined to give further information and passed along another phone number. The man who answered that phone declined to comment. 

Sem Vathanak, Tumnob Rolok commune chief, said the private land where Thmor Yeak Beach Resort is located was previously purchased around 2010 by Kim Yan from local farmers, but the chief was uncertain if the land had been sold or leased after that. Kim Yan was a former army commander-in-chief, deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.

“He [Kim Yan] had bought commune people’s farms one after another. The owners had grown coconut and other fruits there,” he said. “But there was a forest fire and it became difficult to look after the area. Some people stopped farming and sold [their land]. Ultimately, his excellency Ke Kim Yan bought [the land].”

Cheung Kou commune chief Tun Chea said he is very familiar with the land in his commune, but neither he nor other villagers knew what was being done at the location of Chan Krasnaa Resort, aside from it being rented to Chinese people.  

“His excellency [Kim Yan] has controlled and grown crops on the land for about 20 years. It belongs to him, but [we] don’t know what it was rented out for or what they do on the land,” he said.

Thmor Yeak Beach Resort made a Facebook post on February 25, 2023 wishing Kim Yan a happy birthday which included photos of Kim Yan looking over paperwork and pointing into the distance in places that appear to be areas under construction at the resort. The Chan Krasnaa Resort Facebook page also shared the post.