Authorities should punish top officials who profit from the trafficking of Chinese nationals through Cambodia, a top government spokesman said Monday.
Information Ministry Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith became the first government official to assert that officials linked to the trade should be targeted, just two days after another batch of more than 200 illegal Chinese immigrants were taken into detention in Phnom Penh.
“There must be a greater effort to stop the immigrants,” said Khieu Kanharith, also a CPP central committee member. “There must be an investigation into who helped the immigrants come here and their heads should roll….Those officials must be kicked out.”
On Saturday, police rounded up 226 Chinese nationals from two homes that authorities maintain are owned by government officials—an RCAF colonel and a member of the National Police. The arrest was the third major Phnom Penh haul of suspected illegal immigrants from China in less than two months. The total arrested since Aug 19 is more than 470.
First Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Chea Sophara, who has spearheaded two of the three recent busts, has said the right thing for the government to do would be to replace the officials assisting the Chinese. However, Chea Sophara also has maintained action will never be taken against the officials involved in the lucrative trade because they are “too powerful.”
Chea Sophara has said repeatedly that senior members of the National Police and a Cambodian diplomat played key roles in helping Chinese in Phnom Penh as they transit to Western nations. Interior Ministry and army officials have collaborated his claims, but asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Monday reiterated an assertion previously made by his boss, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, that large numbers of Chinese here in transit could not enter Cambodia without the help of high-ranking government officials.
“I think that without the assistance of the people who are rich and powerful enough, they [Illegal Chinese immigrants] cannot come to Cambodia,” said Khieu Sopheak, adding the latest batch of immigrants were arrested in a modern villa in the Russei Keo district.
“How can 200 of them live in one mansion without their [high-ranking officials’] assistance?,” asked Khieu Sopheak, who stopped short of saying government officials found to be involved in the trade should be punished.
In a letter dated Sunday to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Chea Sophara stated that 175 Chinese nationals were arrested Saturday in a house owned by RCAF Colonel Om Vicheth and an additional 51 were arrested in the residence of Immigration department police officer Pa Samardy.
Police officials said Monday they are unclear if any of the 226 Chinese arrested Saturday hold legal travel documents.
The houses located in Tuk Thla commune, Russei Keo district were raided Saturday by municipal and military police after neighbors complained that the houses held hundreds of Chinese nationals, Chea Sophara said Sunday.
Deputy Municipal Police Chief Bith Kim Hong and Teng Savong, deputy director general of National Police, said Monday that no arrests have been made and police are still investigating if Om Vicheth and Pa Samardy are involved in the Chinese smuggling scam.
According to Bith Kim Hong, both home owners claim they knew nothing about the 226 Chinese people.
“We are still investigating the owners of the villas, Om Vicheth and Pa Samardy. They told me they rented the houses to other persons and not the Chinese,” said Bith Kim Hong.
Immigration Police Chief Prok Saroeun said Monday that Pa Samardy was not a member of the immigration police department.
Prok Saroeun also denied that high ranking officials may be involved in the network to smuggle Chinese through Cambodia.
“The Chinese come from China to Cambodia. There must be a guide or a leader to lead them. But it can be a normal person or a driver. Then they rent a house in Cambodia where they stay,” said Prok Saroeun. (additional reporting Sovirak Chea)