Scores of Chinese police officers swarmed the tarmac at Phnom Penh International Airport on Friday as 39 suspects arrested for their involvement in an alleged telecom scam were herded onto a chartered plane bound for China —including 25 Taiwanese nationals, whose government unsuccessfully attempted to have them repatriated.
The detainees, handcuffed and wearing numbered orange vests, walked a gauntlet of Chinese officers in SWAT uniforms and were searched with handheld metal detectors before boarding the China Eastern Airlines flight to Hangzhou, a provincial capital about 175 km from Shanghai. The plane arrived at about 10:30 a.m. and took off an hour later.
Twenty-seven of the Chinese and Taiwanese nationals were arrested on June 13 in a raid on a villa in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, suspected of operating an internet-phone scam. On June 18, another eight Taiwanese suspects were arrested at an apartment in Russei Keo district, and four more were picked up at the airport while trying to flee the country with invalid travel documents, according to Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.
Following the June 13 raid, a team of Taiwanese officials was dispatched to Phnom Penh to negotiate the repatriation of their nationals, led by Taiwan’s consular-general in Vietnam, Ling Kuan-Chung.
But Cambodia rebuffed the entreaties, citing its adherence to the “One China” policy, which allows for economic ties with Taiwan but bars diplomatic relations with Taipei. (Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of China, but the island republic has operated independently for decades.)
Frances Lee, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described Cambodia’s decision to deport the Taiwanese suspects to China as “very regretful.”
“This is not in line with international practice,” she said on Friday. “This is a legal case, not a political case. We see no reason to politicize it.”
Ms. Lee added that Kenya similarly deported a group of suspected Taiwanese fraudsters to China in April despite the protests of Taiwanese officials.
Dozens of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals have been arrested in Cambodia in recent years for extorting or otherwise defrauding vulnerable people in China using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) equipment—a favored tool among scammers for its ability to mask the source of long-distance calls.
In one of the largest-ever cases, 168 Chinese nationals were arrested in Sihanoukville in November and subsequently deported home. In March, 38 others were arrested at an under-construction casino in Poipet City and deported.
(Additional reporting by Jodie DeJonge)