National Police Director General Hok Lundy said Tuesday that he will investigate who was illegally trafficking Chinese nationals through Cambodia, but indicated allegations that officials under his jurisdiction were involved were untrue.
“Right now I do not know if the low-level police officers are corrupt or not, because there are no documents to prove they are involved in this case,” Hok Lundy said Tuesday. “If they have the documents, I will solve the problem relying on police discipline.”
The powerful police official also said he will help authorities “collect” all illegal immigrants, including “Vietnamese, Pakistanis, Westerners and others.”
Charges of involvement of National Police officials in the exposed Chinese-smuggling trade were made publicly last week by Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara.
Other Interior Ministry and military sources also accused National Police officials, including members of the immigration police, of playing key roles in an operation described as well-established, systematic and worth tens of thousands of dollars per month. They spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.
The issue was thrust into the limelight on Aug 19 when 225 Chinese nationals were arrested at a Tuol Kok district residence. They apparently were waiting to be assisted out of the Cambodia to a third nation, Phnom Penh Deputy Police Commissioner Bith Kim Hong and other police officials said at the time.
Hok Lundy said he will review the activities of police under his command.
The deputy chief of the immigration police unit at Pochentong Airport, Tan Sovanchea, denied illegal Chinese immigrants were allowed to pass through the airport and out of the country.
While police demanding tips from passengers at the passport desk was a problem, bogus or tampered with passports were not, Tan Sovanchea said. He added that the only recent incident involving Chinese was last month when three Chinese people were sent back to Malaysia after arriving and presenting forged foreign passports.
Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for both the government and the CPP, said Monday that the trafficking of foreigners for profit was of utmost concern.
He said that key CPP officials met last week and discussed the issue of the 225 Chinese immigrants, deciding the issue must be addressed forthrightly.
“If officials are not serious about this case, it will damage the credibility of the government,” Khieu Kanharith said.
He said the position of the party is that all illegal immigration must be stopped—“we must be clear on this point”—and that those involved in the trade must be brought to justice.
“After the investigation, people must be punished,” Khieu Kanharith said.
However, he said if high-ranking officials are responsible for the human smuggling ring, it will be difficult to arrest them.
“I think if you have high-ranking officials involved, you cannot arrest them…I think they can bribe some people,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith called on Chea Sophara to name the officials he alleged to be involved in the smuggling. “If you are sure, you must name the people,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Chea Sophara said Tuesday that he did not want to reveal names because it is the job of investigators to determine who’s involved.
He said the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy must work together to ensure the immigrants’ exit from Cambodia is properly documented.
“Otherwise, if we do not use the proper documents they will go from Phnom Penh to Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kampot provinces, and after some time, they will come back again [for illegal transport to third countries]. I want to do this by using legal procedures, officially and openly,” Chea Sophara said.
Hok Lundy on Tuesday said the allegations against his forces were made for political reasons.
“Those people said those things because they want to make political gain and gain influence for themselves,” he said.
Heading the investigation into the fire—four days after the arrest of the 225—at the immigration police headquarters near Pochentong Airport, Lieutenant General Sau Phan of the Interior Ministry added his voice Tuesday to the chorus alleging that powerful government officials were involved in the smuggling network, but he did not say what ministry or what department they worked in.
Like other police and military officials said last week, Sau Phan alleged the illegal Chinese cross the border from Vietnam into Cambodia at Kampot, Takeo and Svay Rieng provinces and are escorted to Phnom Penh by armed men who pass them on to powerful “protectors” in the city.
“When I have enough documents I will forward them to the minister [of Interior Sar Kheng] to kick them out of their positions. There is only a small group of high-level people doing this task,” Sau Phan maintained.
Interior Ministry and military officials also alleged last week that a government official posted abroad was involved in the intricate smuggling network by providing transportation and security for the Chinese from the Vietnamese border to Phnom Penh.
(Additional reporting Kimsan Chantara and Chris Decherd)