Following last month’s police arrest and extradition of 168 Chinese nationals accused of operating a transnational telecom extortion ring from Sihanoukville in Cambodia, thousands of Chinese investors, workers and tourists have fled the coastal city, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Police raided a villa in Sihanoukville on Oct. 31st and arrested 168 people, swiftly extraditing them back to China on charter flights. The raid was part of a wider crackdown in Cambodia and Indonesia that has netted 254 suspects involved in over 4,000 cases of telephone fraud.
Many of those arrested worked in the casinos of Sihanoukville, prompting speculation that the raids were aimed at closing down the foreign-owned casinos which cater to Chinese patrons, who are unable to gamble in their own country.
“We have no more customers, and our workers have quit,” Ly Koung, owner of the Majestic Hotel, a newly opened hotel and casino on Victory Hill, told the Post. He said that he had to suspend casino operations after racking up $20,000 in losses.
“Arresting Chinese nationals who work in casinos without any clear evidence made our Chinese staff fearful and many resigned, which forced us to close the casino,” he explained.
Sihanoukville hotel and casino operators met with the provincial governor and local authorities on Friday to press for more clarity about the police crackdown, and to demand evidence to support the allegation that the deported Chinese nationals were part of a Chinese online crime syndicate.
Rattanak Sombath, owner of the Golden Royal Hotel and Casino, which employs Chinese nationals and caters primarily to Chinese tourists, said the police action was a death knell to his business.
While he did not specify his losses, his assistant Mean Vannak confirmed to the Post that the hotel and casino lost about $100,000 following the October 31 police crackdown and had ceased operations.
Sombath said the hotel’s casino employed 79 of the Chinese nationals arrested in the crackdown, but denied they had conducted any illicit activities while working in the casino. He said police, who confiscated VoIP equipment when they arrested the suspects at a villa and guesthouse, had not provided any evidence of wrongdoing.
Sihanoukville’s Chinese expat community had grown in recent years on the back of a growing gaming sector, with casinos – and particularly live-dealer online casinos – requiring Chinese workers to interact with Mainland Chinese gamblers.
The number of casinos in Sihanoukville has grown from 7 last year to 15 currently with five applications pending approval, driven by Chinese investment, according to the Ministry of Finance spokesman.
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