Anti-trafficking police said on Wednesday that they were searching for more suspects involved in the alleged trafficking of at least 20 students who were promised scholarships to study in China, but ended up working seven-day weeks in a garment factory.
Inn Simanann, owner and director of the Ipat Institute in Phnom Penh, was arrested in October and charged with trafficking for sending the students to China’s Yantai Nanshan University under false pretenses.
The students claim they paid the institute $2,500 each to make the arrangements and were promised scholarships for a four-year fashion and design program. Instead, they said they were put to work on arrival and given one to two hours of Chinese language classes each day.
So Vandy, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said on Wednesday that Mr. Simanann had likely worked with others in Cambodia, but declined to elaborate.
“We are investigating to find other people who were involved with the trafficking,” he said.
Earlier this week, Mr. Vandy said the unlicensed institute had been shut down. At the time, he said 19 students had been trafficked to China beginning in 2015, and that only eight had since been repatriated.
On Wednesday, however, Kim Chanda, the Interior Ministry’s bureau chief of cross-border anti-human trafficking, said Ipat had actually sent 24 students to China and that 20 had returned.
“The other four students agreed to work at the garment factory in China,” he said.
Mr. Chanda said he did not know whether those four students had also left Cambodia based on false promises.
Mr. Vandy said the Foreign Affairs Ministry was aware of the case and helped with the repatriations, but he did not know if the ministry was still pursuing the case with Chinese authorities.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said he “cannot confirm” whether the ministry was still pursuing the case or whether more students were still in China working at the factory against their will. Mr. Sounry declined to explain why he could not discuss whether the ministry was still working with Chinese authorities.
“I start to hang up on you,” he said, and hung up.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, who declined to give his name, said he was unaware of the case, but would look into it.
Mr. Simanann’s lawyer, Oeung Rithea, declined to comment because, he said, he had not yet studied the case file.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)