Police said Tuesday they are investigating whether two bodies dumped on the banks of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, which are so far unidentified and unclaimed, are connected to an extortion ring uncovered in a nearby villa on Monday.
The beaten bodies of two men, who police believe are either Chinese or Taiwanese nationals, were dumped by men driving a van on Saturday night and discovered by residents of Russei Keo district’s Prek Tasek commune the following morning.
Mom Sitha, chief of the municipal foreigner police unit, said officials from the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean embassies had all visited the bodies, which are being kept at Stung Meanchey pagoda.
“They came to see, but they did not recognize them,” he said. “We can’t cremate their bodies until we find out their identities.”
On Monday, a day after the bodies turned up, police raided a villa less than 2 km away in nearby Chroy Changva commune, arresting 40 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals, including 13 women, according to Major General Khun Sambor, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence department.
Maj. Gen. Sambor said they were operating a Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, scam, which involves extorting money from people, likely in China or Taiwan, by contacting them over the phone using computers.
Police confiscated 23 VoIP machines and 49 desk phones at the villa, he said.
National police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said police were still questioning the suspects.
“Now, they are being interrogated,” he said, adding that police were actively investigating if the two bodies were linked to the extortion gang.
“Of course, we are trying to see whether it’s linked or not. But we don’t know yet.”
The case is only the latest raid on a Chinese or Taiwanese extortion ring in Cambodia, which is becoming a regular occurrence.
Last month, two separate rings were busted in the space of a few days involving a total of 58 Chinese and two Taiwanese. Earlier in April, 39 Chinese nationals were arrested in four separate districts in Phnom Penh for using VoIP to extort money.
In each case, the suspects were summarily deported to China or Taiwan.
Mr. Chantharith said criminal gangs, which are operating similar scams across the region, were not specifically targeting Cambodia.
“There are offenders not only in Cambodia. Wherever they can find a place, they will go,” he said. “So far, they’ve been caught in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia.”
In each case, police have discovered large numbers of young people from overseas crammed into close quarters, raising the possibility that the gangs are to human trafficking.
Mr. Chantharith said police had not yet, but would, ask the suspects if they traveled to Cambodia on their own will.
“We should pay attention to this question, so we will ask them about this and see if they are trafficked or not,” he said.