While the 47 Malaysians allegedly involved in illicit activities in Banteay Meanchey province were permitted to return home following approval by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, the mystery behind what had transpired is far from resolved.
As Malaysian and Cambodia media focus on the ‘victims of an employment scam’ narrative, Khmer Times has learnt the houses themselves, being in Poipet city, were designed to facilitate scammers to run VoIP scams, otherwise known as Macao scams.
Being close to the Thai border means visa runs were just minutes away. The houses reportedly had hidden entrances to basements and double-bolted doors.
Khmer Times has learnt from a credible source that the group had prior knowledge of the operation and allegedly tried to evade custody by hiding in the basements when police raided both houses.
For 45 minutes, police reportedly knocked the main door before breaching the first house.
“The [first] house was seemingly empty, but air conditioner units were on because the rooms were still cold,” the source says. “Electrical appliances were also warm – it was really suspicious.”
“Upon further inspection, [police] found something amiss near a cabinet under a staircase,” the source adds. “Once they removed the cabinet, they found a locked door that leads to an underground hideout.”
According to the source, there were two rooms in the basement. The first room was empty, but filled with smoke. The second room was where the former detainees were allegedly hiding.
“After police busted the doors open, one of [the detainees] handed over a bag filled with 38 passports to the authorities,” the source says. “The other nine [passports] are believed to have either been burnt in the other room, or withheld by third parties, whom police are working to identify, but cannot proceed because the 47 had left Cambodia.”
Despite statements saying the 47 were not involved in unlawful acts, authorities said they found several workstations equipped with technology used in VoIP scams.
Similar experience was had by police after they raided the second house in the city.
Altogether, police nabbed 55 people, including eight Chinese nationals. The eight were released shortly after their arrest because their lawyer said they were only cooks.
Travel documents revealed that some of the former detainees arrived in the Kingdom as early as July, 2017. Some had also travelled to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, China, the United Arab Emirates and Japan within the span of two years.
The documents showed that one of the former detainees had just returned from Thailand just one day before police moved in on the group, contradicting claims made saying that they had never been to Cambodia before and that their passports were confiscated as soon as they arrived.
Back in Malaysia, a rumour saying lawmaker Larry Sng Wei Shien and his father, Sng Chee Hua, were masterminds behind the group is circulating on the internet.
Mr Larry Sng, who led a team to help the 47 Malaysians return home, says he is unbothered by the rumour.
“A report has been lodged, and the last I heard, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has also been notified,” Mr Sng says. “It is up to them now to take action against those who started the rumour.”
“Perhaps some people are politically motivated to tarnish my reputation […], but I am not at all concerned,” he adds. “I would like to focus on moving on and educating our fellow Malaysians on the danger of accepting job opportunities through unverified sources.”
The rumour alleges that a father and son team bribed Cambodian authorities in order to supply illegal gambling operators, and that the arrests happened after the father failed to pay his accomplices after overspending during last year’s general election in Malaysia.
The father’s failure in maintaining the bribery supposedly triggered the arrest. Angered by the detention, the 47 allegedly threatened to report the father’s illicit activities to Malaysian authorities.
The son then was allegedly sent to Cambodia in order to secure the 47 Malaysians and returned a ‘hero’.
Mr Sng says he has not been in touch with the 47 following their release.
“Of course, I’m interested to know how the situation had come about,” he says. “We leave it to the Malaysian authorities for new findings.”
Additionally, Malaysian authorities are currently “actively pursuing investigations”.
As of yesterday, Malaysian police had remanded a 35-year-old man in Kuching, Sarawak for four days in order to assist with the probe.
It has been reported that the Kuching Court registrar Dora Undau had granted the order following an application by investgating officer Assistant Superintendent Pricha Azin.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Mustafa Kamal Gani Abdullah, head of the state commercial crime investigations department, on Saturday said 23 of the Malaysian detainees had already given their statements.
“If there is an update, I will issue a press statement,” Supt Mustafa said.