The coastal city has received a lot of Chinese investment in recent years. Inside the China Project compound, at least 8,000 people are held prisoner, trained to commit Internet fraud. A Khmer Times investigation found that criminals are moving their activities to other parts of the country.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – From the outside they look like a dozen square buildings, residential complexes for Cambodian or foreign workers. In reality, the China Project hosts 8,000 to 10,000 slaves, people recruited by deception, held prisoner and forced to commit Internet fraud.
“Every Chinese person who spends more than a couple of months in Sihanoukville knows about it. They call it China City,” an anonymous source told the Khmer Times.
A group of entrepreneurs who bought the entire area after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen banned gambling in 2019 is behind the crime syndicate.
Sihanoukville has changed in recent years. Before Chinese investments poured in, it was a sleepy coastal town in southern Cambodia.
After Chinese President Xi Jinping launched his mega infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Western tourists were thrown out to make room for the Chinese.
Signs in Khmer and English have disappeared, replaced by signs in Mandarin. Hotels, restaurants and casinos now form many small Chinatowns.
The city is BRI’s first port of call with the Chinese investing US$ 4.2 billion in local power plants and offshore oil fields.
China also provided US0 million in aid to modernise Cambodia’s military. Perhaps this is why China Project bosses can act undisturbed.
“China City is the worst of the worst,” the source told the Khmer Times. “They are protected by the police. The only reason the cops will go in there is a strong tip-off about drugs. It’s a very clear line in the sand,” he added.
According to the Cambodian newspaper, most slaves are Chinese, but many come from Southeast Asia.
Scammed with fake job offers, their passport seized, taught how to create realistic social profiles to trick people into investing in fake cryptocurrencies, they are groomed to engage in criminal behaviour.
Whoever gets to turn social media interactions into WhatsApp or WeChat contacts gets a reward, such as having sex with East European women, who are also held prisoner.
According to some witnesses, one scammer managed to steal up to US$ 400,000 from a single individual.
Some of these modern-day slaves are forced to find new recruits for the China Project through the same fraudulent methods with which they were first tricked.
An anonymous police officer reported that near the China Project, law enforcement officers find bodies every other week, but cannot separate murders and suicides. Sometimes bodies have messages written on their arms indicating that the death was not by suicide.
The husband of a former China Project “employee” said that his wife had been referred to the company through an agency as a call centre employee.
“Everything was okay in the beginning,” he explained. Then “They said they would train her near the airport”. Eventually, “the company picked up my wife from my house and took her to the training centre. But when they were on their way, they said that they had to take her to a trainer in Sihanoukville.”
The woman quickly realised that it was a scam and that people in Europe were being scammed. “She immediately said that she wanted to resign but the people there did not allow her to leave. They wanted to sell her to another company.”
Other sources confirm that people are sold and then moved to other buildings. And going to the Cambodian police with such a story will not change things.
“I told the story to the police but they didn’t take any action,” the husband said. “I didn’t give any money but they wanted ,000 at first”. When “some news websites talked about what happened, she was released.”
Following the Khmer Times investigation, local real estate agents reported receiving many requests for housing from companies in the city.
It appears that the crime bosses are now moving to O'tres, Victory Hill, near the seaport and downtown Sihanoukville. Some are thought to be looking at Battambang province and even the capital Phnom Penh.