The Justice Ministry said it will review the case of 47 Malaysians detained in Banteay Meanchey provincial prison over suspicions of fraud and running an illegal gambling operation in Poipet city.
The detainees, aged between 19 to 44, have been imprisoned since they were arrested in December. The detention prompted the Malaysian embassy to submit a letter to the Justice Ministry calling for their release.
Lieutenant Colonel Khem Sophoan, chief of the provincial police’s minor crime bureau, yesterday said a total of 55 people were arrested during a raid on a gambling den.
“We received a report from our intelligence officers that they were running an online gambling operation,” he said. “The provincial court then granted us a search warrant to inspect the house.”
Lt Col Sophoan said authorities took more than an hour to breach the house, noting that the door was locked and the suspects hid in the basement of the house.
“Before we arrived at the scene, they had already destroyed their hard drives from six or seven computers,” he said. “During questioning, they tried to hide information, saying that they did not commit any crime.”
“If they did not commit any crime, then why did they hide information?” Lt Col Sophoan said. “If they did not commit a crime, then why did they hide underground and destroy their hard drives?”
Lt Col Sophoan noted that the 55 people snared in the raid included eight Chinese nationals. He said that several of the Chinese suspects were released after a request was made by lawyers.
Lt Col Sophoan said despite the destruction of evidence, police decided to proceed with the case against the 47 Malaysians.
“Several of the Chinese nationals were released after their lawyer made a request to police,” he said. “They were not involved with this case, they were just cooks.”
On Thursday, the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that it was in touch with provincial police.
“The Malaysian embassy has brought this matter to the attention of the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry via a diplomatic note to release the detainees,” the statement said.
The Straits Times reported last week that Malaysian embassy Charge d’Affaires Ruzaimi Mohamad would meet with Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to discuss the situation.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said that Mr Vong Vathana has not met with any official from the Malaysian embassy.
“We just received the letter this afternoon,” Mr Malin said. “The Malaysian embassy is requesting us to check and intervene in this case.”
“Our ministry will check on this case,” he added. “We will take action based on existing laws and procedures.”
Last week, a source told the Khmer Times that the 47 Malaysians were promised $1,500 per month to work in Cambodia, but were instead treated like bonded slaves.
“They do not know why they have been arrested,” the source said. “They hope to come home soon.”
“They were made to work from 8am to 4pm daily, learning on a tablet how online gambling works,” the source added. “They were not allowed to go out or speak to anyone outside of the house.”
Larry Sng Wei Shien, a Malaysian parliamentarian, said that Air Asia is willing to cover the cost of flying all 47 Malaysians back home.
“I received a phone call from an Air Asia spokesperson yesterday who said they have agreed to foot the bill for all 47 detainees. We haven’t figured out the mechanism to collect said money, but when the time comes, when the detainees are officially released, we will be ready,” the Julau MP told Khmer Times in a brief telephone conversation yesterday.
As of yet, efforts to verify this with Air Asia have been unsuccessful and the airline has issued no statements regarding its role in the case.
Additional reporting by Anith Adilah Othman