Police in Battambang province believe that the owner of a brothel they raided on Wednesday—freeing seven Vietnamese and Cambodian girls—is not among three people arrested in the operation, and remains at large.
The raid in Kamrieng district on Wednesday night followed a months-long investigation by anti-trafficking NGO Agape International Missions and provincial police, resulted in the arrest of six adult sex workers and three suspected brokers, and the rescue of seven girls between the ages of 14 and 17.
The brothel was disguised as a nameless massage parlor and had been closed down by authorities at least twice before, according to police.
Born Vannara, chief of the provincial police’s anti-human trafficking bureau, said on Friday the adult sex workers were still being held at the provincial police headquarters for questioning.
He said the three suspects—Seng Loek, 43; his wife In Sopheap, 36; and Im Kong, 26, the woman’s brother—had already been interrogated and would be sent to court on Saturday, adding that Mr. Loek had come clean about his role at the brothel.
“Sen Loek said he was paid $5 per day to manage the girls, and there were two groups,” he said. “Between five and six girls received a salary and others worked for profits [from clients] that they split…with Seng Loek.”
The brother and sister have maintained their innocence, Mr. Vannara said, adding that Ms. Sopheap had, however, unwittingly tipped off investigators to the brothel’s likely owner and operator: her sister.
“In Sopheap said she just came to visit her older sister’s house [the brothel] to watch a concert,” he said, explaining that Ms. Sopheap claimed that her sister was receiving medical treatment in Vietnam.
“The two [siblings] said they just came for a visit to the house the same day that police raided the parlor. Now we consider the house owner at large; we arrested [the three] for procuring prostitution and child prostitution,” he said.
On Thursday, district police chief Phan Channara said the brothel had been shut down “two or three times” previously for offering sex services.
Reached yesterday, he said he did not know if the building had been under the same ownership the whole time, adding that local police should not be blamed for failing to prevent it from reopening.
“We kept it under observation, but whenever we checked it, they made the inside like a normal living room,” he said.
“Also we have been busy working on robbery cases, so we did not have enough officers to investigate.”