National Police Director General Hok Lundy acknowledged for the first time Thursday that Cambodian passports were purchased by illegal Chinese immigrants but blamed a police officer who was killed two years ago in Banteay Meanchey for the sales.
Just an hour after dozens of illegal Chinese nationals were deported, Hok Lundy said authorities had confirmed only 60 instances where Cambodian passports had been issued to Chinese immigrants in recent years.
Those passports were sold by a police officer for some $600 to the Chinese, who would then change the existing photo with their own, Hok Lundy said, speaking to a group of reporters at Pochentong Airport.
Hok Lundy said his officers have cooperated with Macau and Hong Kong police and confiscated many of the illicit passports.
The National Police have been under fire since Phnom Penh’s First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara alleged in early September that powerful government and police officials are involved in a widespread Chinese smuggling ring that is worth tens of thousands of dollars monthly.
Hok Lundy again defended his police department Thursday and denied that any police officers were smuggling illegal immigrants through Cambodia on to other nations. The allegations were made against his police force by political opponents trying to raise their own public profile, he maintained.
He promised to investigate the allegations of official involvement, saying, “We will fire and take
legal action against anyone found guilty of human trafficking.”
The police officer accused of selling Cambodian passports was killed in an automobile accident, Hok Lundy said. All he could remember about the officer was that he worked for the passport department, but Hok Lundy said he did not know the officer’s name or what branch of police he worked for.
Hok Lundy said the 200-plus Chinese deported were questioned about who brought them into the country, but none of them named Cambodian officials.
“According to the answers of the Chinese immigrants…they did not know who are the ring leaders or which border gates they were brought in,” Hok Lundy said.
The Chinese also refused to answer how much they were supposed to pay for a Cambodian passport or from whom they would buy the passports.
“So we have no evidence,” Hok Lundy said. “This is one complicated issue.”
He said as many as 90 percent of the Chinese in Cambodia entered illegally through uncontrolled border crossings and blamed what he called an underpaid police force for failing to properly guard the border.
“They spend eight hours a day working and then work to help their families also. They might be negligent with their duties and that’s why some immigrants have entered by land and sea.”
Many of these Chinese come to Cambodia looking for work, Hok Lundy said. (Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)