Interior Ministry police arrested and deported three foreign nationals for allegedly planning to smuggle 250 illegal immigrants through Cambodia to Australia and the European Union, police said Monday.
Sri Lankan brothers Ramesh Thangavelu, 38, and Saravana Thangavelu, 36, along with Pakistani Mohamad Noor Ullah, 48, were arrested on Aug 27, after police allegedly discovered evidence that they were planning to set up a large-scale smuggling operation, said Chhay Sinarith, director of the ministry’s general information department.
“According to Ramesh Thangavelu’s confession, the men planned to smuggle 250 people from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh through Cambodia to a third country—the EU and Australia,” Chhay Sinarith said at a news conference.
The men were arrested before the smuggling ring could become operational, he said.
He added that the three men also fingered Mariam Pillai Lerins, owner of the popular Raani Curry Leaf Restaurant in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, Lipton Lerins, Mohamad Nadim and a man identified as Gamini, as the alleged ringleaders of the operation—all of whom are still at large.
The three arrested men were sent back to their home countries on Sept 1 under the supervision of international Interpol officers, Chhay Sinarith added.
Nisarullah Baluch, minister for the Pakistan Embassy, said Tuesday that one of the deported men, Mohamad Noor Ullah, owner of the Indian Curry Pot restaurant located in the Boeng Kak lake backpacker area, was known as a respectable business owner.
“To my information, Noor Ullah was a law abiding citizen,” he said, adding that Noor Ullah also ran a free publication called the “Mekong News.”
Baluch said that the Pakistan Embassy received no official, written notification from the Interior Ministry before Noor Ullah was deported.
“He was deported without access to council, and he was deported quickly,” Baluch said. “The foreign office and the Ministry of Interior should inform us [in writing],” he said.
Chhay Sinarith claimed by telephone on Tuesday that the embassy had been notified, and that he had met with Baluch.
“We informed the Embassy of Pakistan,” Chhay Sinarith said. “[Baluch] went to meet Mohamad Noor Ullah face to face.”
Sun Sophea, 43, a Cambodian cook at the Indian Curry Pot, said that Noor Ullah was asked by police to come in for questioning at around 5 pm on Aug 27 and never returned.
“[Police] didn’t say the reason,” Sun Sophea said.
After viewing pictures of Ramesh Thangavelu and Mariam Pillai Lerins, Sun Sophea said that she had never seen the men in the company of Noor Ullah during the six years she had worked at the restaurant.
In July 2001, 241 Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and Indonesians suspected of being illegal immigrants were arrested in Sihanoukville as they were about to board a boat destined for Australia and New Zealand.
Two Indonesians and three Pakistanis among the 241 were suspected of organizing the smuggling scheme.
A spokesman for the Australian Embassy on Monday said his government was pleased that the Cambodian authorities had disrupted this latest alleged people smuggling ring.