In January 2018 local governor Yun Min warned that Chinese investments bring organised crime and instability to Sihanoukville, sending a three-page letter to the interior minister. Governor Yun Min warned that the Chinese influx had “created opportunities for Chinese mafia to come in and commit various crimes and kidnap Chinese investors, causing insecurity in the province”.
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While acknowledging that Chinese investment had created jobs and pushed up real estate prices in the province, Yun Min also complained about drunk Chinese nationals getting into fights in restaurants, and about rising hotel prices as a result of their interest in Sihanoukville.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said at that time that Cambodia would not be controlled by the Chinese. “We still keep our sovereignty. The Chinese can’t control us. If they come as proper investors and respect our laws, it’s fine,” he explained.
For its part, the Cambodian government has tried to allay fears and downplay concerns raised by international media about Chinese investors laundering money from criminal activities through the Cambodian real estate market.
A spokesman for Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry called reports to that effect “baseless” but analysts warn that rampant corruption, the lack of government transparency, and loose banking regulations make money laundering easier.
On May 10 2019, Radio Free Asia said this in an article: Cambodia downplays criticism of investment amid increased crime by Chinese nationals.
Cambodia’s government has sought to downplay public criticism of Chinese investment in the wake of a recently released police report which found that Chinese citizens were the top perpetrators of crime committed by foreign nationals in the country in the first quarter of 2019.
Cambodia’s National Police published a report which found that out of 341 foreign nationals detained for criminal offences occurring between December 20, 2018 and March 19, 2019, 241 were Chinese nationals (71 percent), followed by 49 Vietnamese, 26 Thais, four South Koreans, and three Americans.
Chinese nationals also made up the largest number of victims of crime in Cambodia over the same period with 98 victims, followed by 12 French nationals, 11 British, nine German, and seven Americans.
The National Police said foreign nationals were held for offences including “drug dealing, sexual harassment, illegal marriages, and the overstaying of visas,” while victims had suffered as the result of “accidents, illness, suicide and traffic accidents.”
The report came amid a string of high-profile arrests of Chinese nationals, including 163 people nabbed during a March police raid at a Siem Reap-based illegal online gambling ring, two people who shot a driver to death during a brazen daylight carjacking in Sihanoukville, and 28 people caught a day later in a raid at a place that operated an online extortion scam out of Phnom Penh.
Speaking during a meeting to discuss the report’s findings at the Ministry of Interior headquarters, National Police spokesman Lt Gen Chhay Kim Khoeun, who was quoted by Khmer Times, said Chinese nationals likely topped the list of criminal detentions due to the growing number of Chinese investors in Cambodia.
“It is clear that crackdowns have uncovered more crimes,” he said, adding that “economic development and investment have attracted more foreign investors and tourists, so crimes are likely to occur.”
In another aticle, O’Russey I commune police chief Thong Mardy said Chinese nationals who relocate to Cambodia “don’t seek to learn our laws.Those who come here were mostly criminals in China with have poor track records, and they commit offences,” he said, adding, “if we to implement our country’s legal measures, there would be no pardon.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan acknowledged that Chinese nationals have increasingly been responsible for crimes in Cambodia and told RFA’s Khmer Service that the government is “working to resolve the issue.”
But he also looked to soften public criticism of Chinese investment in the country, noting that no crime committed by Chinese nationals have amounted to national security threats.
“Investors don’t shoot each other on the streets. These things involved only a few bad people,” he said.
“I would like to let people know that the government is not ignoring the issue. We are working on it.”
Chinese investment now flows into Cambodian real estate, agriculture and entertainment, particularly to the port city of Sihanoukville. But Cambodians regularly chafe at what they say are unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese residents, and worry that their country is increasingly bending to Beijing’s will.
In September last year, the Interior Ministry established a taskforce to assist police in Sihanoukville province with crimes following an increase of Chinese nationals to the region.
A month later, the taskforce reported that Chinese criminal organisations had followed Chinese investment into the country, and were setting up local operations.
Outgoing Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo acknowledged the rising crime rate among Chinese living in Cambodia, including drug and sex trafficking and online or telephone scams. He thanked Cambodian authorities for helping to crack down.
It is hoped that the Cambodian government will keep increasing the number of special task forces to keep the criminal rate under control.
Benjamin is a business consultant based in China