Chinese criminal syndicates rampant in SE Asia

The Chinese criminal syndicates are exploiting the unemployed youth for expanding their illegal activities in the   Cambodia – Thailand border region, says The Irrawaddy, a leading Myanmar daily, and adds that criminal gangs have stepped up their activities since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

Many organised criminal groups are roping in youth who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and thus made their operations grow in scale and volumes. The Chinese-run scam operations have become an industry by all means says the Myanmar daily. It attributes the illegal Chinese ops to    the increasing economic integration between China and the South-east Asia. 

Weak legal framework and corrupt local elites are giving a boost to the illegal activities that range from fake call centres to transnational crimes.

In a joint op, the Thai and Cambodian police rescued 68 Thai workers from Chinese scam gangs running call centres on April 10. The arrests were made at Sihanoukville in western Cambodia, and Krong Bavet on the border with Vietnam besides Phnom Penh.

This was not the first such arrest though.

Last November, the Cambodian police rescued 99 Thai workers from a building in Phnom Penh where they were held and forced into illegal work by a Chinese gang.

Chinese gangsters direct their victims, mostly poor workers, to ‘earn’ at least 500,000 Thai baht (nearly USD 15,000) every month. If they fail in the ‘mission’, the gang will simply sell them to another gang for a price.

Those who refuse to fall-in line, are tortured. They are whipped, electrocuted, beaten up or locked in dark rooms without food, The Irrawaddy said in its despatch.

Sihanoukville   has emerged as a big base for the Chinese criminal gangs who are said to exploit the casino culture and the state of lawlessness. Hundreds of Malaysians, Filipinos and Indonesians have also been lured into the crime world.

Over 1,500 Thais are still working in the fake call centres in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Poipet and other cities, according to the Thai Police, who are keeping a hawkish eye on the Chinese gangs.    As many as 800 Thais have been rescued during the past eight months. 

While the ‘trade’ (transnational crime) is rooted in Cambodia and adjoining belt, the kingpins, most of them have parked themselves in China. The modus operandi of these rackets is unclear. There is mounting evidence however that the Chinese gangs are well coordinated. They also are linked to other nodes of illicit activities, such as drug-trafficking syndicates that operate in eastern Myanmar.

The surge in Chinese gangsterism, say Police and security analysts, is a by-product of China’s economic boom and increasing connectivity to once-remote parts of Southeast Asia. Poor law enforcement in the border areas is providing a fillip to the Chinese crime syndicates to thrive. 

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