Thai Police Rescue 700 Thais from Chinese Debt Bondage in Cambodia

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The Royal Thai Police recently rescued 700 Thais from Chinese criminal gang-run compounds in Cambodia, where Thais lured into financial telephone scams are held against their will in debt bondage, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

“With our Cambodian counterparts we have managed to rescue 700 Thais in total so far,” Lieutenant General Surachate Hakparn, a senior Thai police officer, told Al Jazeera for a report published on April 13.

“We’ve issued human trafficking warrants for international organised gangs as well as prosecuted brokers who smuggled Thais through illegal border crossings into Cambodia,” he further revealed.

Hakparn referred to a form of racketeering overseen by Chinese nationals in China (at the highest levels) and others on the ground in Cambodia who work to ultimately scam Thai nationals out of thousands of dollars over the telephone.

“Authorities say the fraud has been carried out on an industrial scale, scamming Thais out of millions of dollars since the pandemic began,” Al Jazeera noted on Wednesday.

The organized crime syndicate recruits Thai nationals to pose as police officers or customs officials over the phone, pressuring fellow Thais into electronically transferring vast sums of money to the Chinese gangs under false pretenses.

Chinese gang leaders lure many Thais into the process by first visiting them in their often impoverished villages in Thailand, which borders Cambodia. The Chinese nationals convince the poor Thais to travel to nearby Cambodian border towns with the empty promise of lucrative work through online sales jobs. Instead of finding new opportunities to better their lives, most Thais who take the fake Chinese recruiters up on the offer to move to Cambodia find themselves trapped inside guarded compounds where they are forced to scam Thai nationals out of their life savings over the phone each day. Most Thai victims are unable to escape the environment because the Chinese gang bosses place exorbitantly high “fees” on their heads to secure their release as a form of debtor bondage.

A Thai couple that recently escaped one such crime syndicate in the Cambodian beach town of Sihanoukville recounted their harrowing experience to Al Jazeera for its April 13 report.

Dao (a woman) and Teerapat (a man) said they were approached by Chinese nationals posing as job recruiters in their Thai home village with an offer to work in online sales in the nearby Cambodian border town of Poipet. When they accepted the offer, however, the Chinese nationals drove them further into Cambodia, to the coastal town of Sihanoukville.

Detailing the couple’s ordeal after arriving in “crime-ridden” Sihanoukville, Al Jazeera wrote:

Teerapat and Dao allege that they were ordered to stay inside a guarded 12-storey compound where Chinese “bosses” laid out their instructions via an interpreter. Their “job” quickly revealed itself as a scam, according to interviews with the pair and corroborating police information.

Instead of online sales, Teerapat and Dao say they were directed to make unsolicited phone calls posing as customs officers, policemen or potential investors looking to secure a bank transfer.

The couple allege they were each expected to scam at least 500,000 baht ($15,000) every month along with dozens of others at the compound, all the while facing the threat of being sold to another gang if they failed to make the numbers.

“The company [in Sihanoukville] makes around 10 million baht ($300,000) a day,” Teerapat told Al Jazeera on April 13.

“They scam thousands of Thais each day and these guys own four different branches of this call centre in Cambodia,” Dao revealed.

A joint Thai and Cambodian police force successfully raided a phone scam operation in Preah Sihanouk, the province of which Sihanoukville is the capital, on March 20, the Bangkok Post reported.

“Police arrested 28 people at the abandoned factory, including three alleged gang leaders – two Chinese nationals and a Thai man identified as Pornsak Reephol. They were charged with colluding in public fraud, illegal assembly and money laundering,” the newspaper revealed.


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