20 Foreigners Detained Over Phone Fraud

Twenty foreign nationals were detained under house arrest in Phnom Penh on Tuesday after military police and Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications inspectors smashed an operation that had allegedly hacked into Cambodia’s international telephone gateway.

The operation had racked up international telephone bills worth more than $20,000 since setting up in a new, purpose-built office building on the corner of Street 63 and Mao Tse-tung Boule­vard around two weeks ago, police and ministry officials said.

Fourteen Britons, two US citizens, one Australian, one New Zealander, one Thai and one Filipino were held in the sweep and remain detained at their offices, Deputy Municipal Military Police Commander Sim Hong said on Wednesday.

“We are not yet sending them to jail. Now we are interrogating them one by one to find out the ringleader,” Sim Hong said.

“Minister of Telecommu­nica­tions So Khun asked for intervention to crack down on this,” he said.

Cheim Sang Va, deputy director of inspections at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, said on Wednesday the group had opened an illegal international telephone gateway which had cost Cambodia tens of thousands of dollars.

However, the groups main purpose was illegal financial trading, Cheim Sang Va alleged.

“Last time they operated in Laos…Now they moved to Cambodia,” Cheim Sang Va said.

The group had cost Cambodia $20,000 in international telephone calls, but it was impossible to calculate how much the group had racked up through financial dealings, he said.

“That is only the Ministry of Telecommunications costs, for the financial markets we don’t know,” said Cheim Sang Va, adding that the Ministry of Finance would be notified that the group had violated financial trading laws.

Fly-by-night financial scam firms known as boiler rooms have been broken up in neighboring Thailand. A base from which telemarketing scams can be launched, boiler rooms are named after the high-pressure environment workers operate under, making numerous cold-calls to potential fraud victims.

Last July, Thai police arrested 78 foreigners at two “boiler room” companies which specialized in cold-calling homes and businesses in Australia, the US and elsewhere to persuade them to buy non-existent stocks. The companies were accused of defrauding Australian investors of some $150 million.

Cheim Sang Va claimed the group busted in Phnom Penh had business cards which described their company as a Cambodian rehabilitation NGO that “does not exist.”

On Wednesday evening some of the detainees could be seen huddled together on the first floor balcony of their offices.

Military Police guarding the entrance to the building said the suspects were sleeping on mats and food was being brought to them.

“There’s no story here,” shouted one British detainee from the balcony. He denied the company was a boiler room and claimed he worked for an NGO. However, he was unable to say what work the NGO was involved in.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Wednesday that one Cambodian man was detained with the 20 foreigners.

Khieu Sopheak said it was unclear what the group was up to, but there was a “question-mark” around why foreigners needed to hack into Cambodia’s telephone gateway.


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