Furious investors who claim they were cheated out of thousands of dollars by a now defunct financial firm that directed them to buy stock in a Hong Kong-based ponzi scheme set up camp in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house on Thursday, imploring him to intervene.
Promising 10 percent monthly returns on investment, Asean Instrument Foundation (AIF) pushed investment in Empire Big Capital (EBC) last year until the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC) warned them in May that year that the fund was a fraud.
Reach Sei, 45, an investor from Kompong Chhnang province who made the trip to Phnom Penh on Thursday, said he had invested $60,000 in EBC and received his first two payments of $6,000 in June and July last year. But then the money stopped coming, Mr. Sei said, so in December he came to visit AIF’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
“When I came and saw the company’s locked door I thought in my mind that the company cheated me,” he said, explaining that he had borrowed $50,000 from Acleda Bank to make the investment, and now needed to pay back $5,000 a month—money he doesn’t have.
“I want the government to intervene to get money back from the company, and the promised interest payments they never paid,” he said, sitting with other duped investors under a tent erected across the street from Mr. Hun Sen’s villa.
In June last year, speaking to a packed conference room at the capital’s Dara Airport Hotel, AIF director Hout Sovann said the firm had attracted some 30,000 investors, ensuring attendees that the scheme was legitimate, despite the warnings from the SECC and the arrest that month of 14 AIF staff in Siem Reap and Takeo provinces on fraud charges.
The Takeo Provincial Court sentenced five of the suspects in November to one year in prison, with six months suspended, Lim Sokhon, the court’s chief of administration, said on Thursday. Yin Sreang, chief of administration for the Siem Reap Provincial Court, said investigations into the case were still ongoing and that the suspects remained in detention, though he did not recall how many.
Chhan Chansopheak, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s general administration department, confirmed on Thursday that AIF had officially closed down in December “because they had no money to provide investors.”
Toeung Phanith, 35, who was among those who petitioned the prime minister on Thursday, said he invested $2,000 in EBC a year ago, most of which he had yet to get back. He said that he had not filed a criminal complaint against AIF or Mr. Sovann, the firm’s director, as he hoped to get the money back without resorting to the court system.
Kong Chamroeun, a representative of Hun Sen’s cabinet who received the petition on Thursday, said he would pass it on to relevant government officials, but suggested they look for a legal solution.
“If you are in Phnom Penh, you should file a complaint to a Phnom Penh police commissioner to take legal action, and if you are from a province you should file a complaint there because it was fraud case,” he said.