Cambodian deports 25 Japanese nationals suspected of operating online scams

By Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Twenty-five Japanese nationals suspected of involvement in a cyberscam operation based in Cambodia were deported to Japan on Wednesday, said Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s Interior Ministry.

The Japanese government arranged a charter flight to transport the suspects, who were detained in September after Cambodian police received a tip-off from their Japanese counterparts, he told The Associated Press.

The 25 were arrested in the capital, Phnom Penh, according to Gen. Keo Vanthan, a spokesperson for the immigration police.

Khieu Sopheak thanked the Japanese government “for their support and good cooperation with the Cambodian government in order to arrest these people.”

Cybercrime scams have become a major issue in Asia.

In August, the U.N.’s human rights office said that criminal gangs have forced hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia into participating in unlawful online scam operations, including false romantic ploys, bogus investment pitches and illegal gambling schemes.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in a report cited “credible sources” saying that at least 120,000 people in strife-torn Myanmar and roughly 100,000 in Cambodia “may be affected.” The report sheds new light on cybercrime scams that have become a major issue in Asia.

In April, 19 Japanese nationals suspected of participating in phone and online scams were similarly deported from Cambodia to their homeland. They had been arrested in the southern city of Sihanoukville, which is notorious for cybercrime scams.

Such scams became a major issue in Cambodia last year, when there were numerous reports of people from various Asian countries and further afield being lured into taking jobs in Cambodia. However, they often found themselves trapped in virtual slavery and forced to participate in scams targeting people over the internet.

The scam networks, which often have links to transnational organized crime, are set up in countries with weak law enforcement and attract educated young workers with promises of high earnings. The workers are then subjected to isolation and threats of violence unless they succeed in cheating victims reached by phone into transferring payments into overseas bank accounts.

Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press

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