Military police have identified the suspected leader of what they believe to be a sex trafficking ring masquerading as a masseuse-training agency as a 40-year-old businesswoman with Cambodian and Thai citizenship who owns karaoke parlors in both countries.
Three women were arrested on Wednesday when police raided a villa in Phnom Penh and freed 13 teenage girls—all between the ages of 14 and 17—who had been lured from their homes in Battambang province by the promise of free training in massage and beauty therapy.
The owner of the villa in Chroy Changva district, however, remains at large, according to military police, who named her on Thursday as Chan Malika. Sen Komon, chief of the municipal military police’s anti-human trafficking bureau, said the suspect owned a karaoke parlor in Phnom Penh and another in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“We have collected answers from the 13 girls. They told us that the villa’s owner was involved with the detention of the girls in an attempt to bring them for prostitution in Thailand,” Mr. Komon said.
Based on interviews with the girls and the nature of Ms. Malika’s business ventures, he said, authorities had reason to believe other Cambodian women had been trafficked to Thailand as part of the same operation before.
Mr. Komon said military police were seeking the arrest of Ms. Malika, who they heard had returned to Phnom Penh on Wednesday night.
“We will arrest the woman if we see her anywhere because she is the house owner,” he said, adding that a court warrant was not necessary because her crime was “obvious.”
Military police were tipped off to the operation after a 15-year-old girl called a relative in Phnom Penh on Tuesday and related how her captors intended to send her to Thailand to work in a karaoke parlor.
Mr. Komon said the three detained suspects were being questioned on Thursday and would be sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today to face charges of trafficking and unlawful detention.
He declined to say how many women he believed had been trafficked by Ms. Malika, explaining that his bureau’s investigation into the case was ongoing, with assistance from the International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-trafficking NGO.
“We are working with some organizations, especially the IJM, to rescue the victims from the karaoke parlor in Thailand,” he said.
Sek Saroeun, a lawyer for IJM, declined to comment on the organization’s involvement in the case.
Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department, said he received the 13 girls on Thursday and would place them with various NGOs for “skills training” before sending them home.