Cambodia police probe massive Chinese call center scam

Police in Cambodia said they had arrested 225 Chinese nationals, 25 of them women, on suspicion of using Internet calls for an extortion scheme. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2017
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Cambodia police probe massive Chinese call center scam

PHNOM PENH: No sooner had the 11-story apartment building in Phnom Penh’s affluent Tuol Kouk district been finished than dozens of young Chinese men and women moved in loaded with desks and laptops, said neighbors.

“I thought they were moving an office in,” said Eng Somnang, 20, who owns a noodle soup shop directly opposite and watched them arrive early this month.

Police in the Cambodian capital accuse them of doing exactly that: setting up a criminal call center with more than 200 Chinese nationals to carry out a telephone and Internet scam on victims in China.

Police raided the building on Wednesday to stop what they said was the latest operation of a type that has duped people out of billions of dollars — with scammers operating from countries that have good Internet access and relaxed visa rules.

From a balcony of the building in Phnom Penh, some of the suspects told Reuters they had not been given food and police were not allowing them to leave.

One of the suspects, Fang, 30, from China, said she came to Cambodia on a tourist visa. She said there were more than 200 people inside the building but declined to answer questions about what they had been doing there.

Police said they had arrested 225 Chinese nationals, 25 of them women, on suspicion of using Internet voice calls for an extortion scheme. They will be sent to China to face justice, police investigators said.

Since 2011, Cambodia has deported 800 people from mainland China and Taiwan, arrested on suspicion of telecoms scams.

Neighbours in Tuol Kouk, dotted with large villas, described the occupants of the building as quiet. They said it had been rented out to tenants for $25,000 a month. The owner was not available to comment.

The occupants kept to themselves, venturing out only at night to get food, neighbors said.

“They were mostly men, some women. Maybe 20, 23 years old. Young,” said Eng Somnang. “When people delivered food to them they were not allowed inside.”

In the past, Chinese fraud suspects have often entered Cambodia on tourist visas, said Uk Haisela, chief of investigation at Cambodia’s immigration department.

The victims of the scammers were often civil servants and retired officials from mainland China, he said.

One of the suspected telephone fraudsters who Uk Haisela interrogated said he made up to $70,000 per week.

Uk Haisela said victims were sometimes blackmailed and the suspects used Cambodia because it was easy to stay in the country and Internet speeds were fast.

Cambodia was able to track the gangs with help from China, he said.

“China sends IP addresses to us ... Once we make arrests, we report to the Chinese embassy,” Uk Haisela told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said there had always been close cooperation with Cambodia.

“China appreciates Cambodia’s cooperation with China on jointly cracking down on telecoms fraud and other cross-border crime,” it said in a statement.

The scams have become a headache for both China and Taiwan, bringing cooperation between them, but also objections from Taiwan because of the deportation of suspects from the self-ruled island to face trial on the mainland.

Suspected scammers have been arrested elsewhere in Asia and Asia.

This month, 77 Chinese fraud suspects were sent to China from Fiji. More than 150 were detained in Indonesia over a scam that police said had netted about $450 million.

Scammers choose countries where they think law enforcement is weak and governments are unlikely to see them as a priority, said Lennon Chang, a criminologist and expert in telecoms fraud at Monash University in Melbourne.

“We might be able to call them criminal nomads,” he told Reuters, saying they moved every couple of weeks.

The fraudsters sometimes posed as officials and tricked people into disclosing bank account details, he said.

“The leaders are not easy to discover. All are young kids. Even if the crime syndicates are discovered and dissolved, the leaders will be able to start a new group in a short period of time.”

- Reuters


OPEC oil ministers gather to discuss production increase

Updated 19 June 2018
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OPEC oil ministers gather to discuss production increase

  • Analysts expect the group to discuss an increase in production of about 1 million barrels a day
  • The officials were arriving in Vienna ahead of the official meeting Friday

VIENNA: The oil ministers of the OPEC cartel were gathering Tuesday to discuss this week whether to increase production of crude and help limit a rise in global energy prices.
The officials were arriving in Vienna ahead of the official meeting Friday, when they will also confer with Russia, a non-OPEC country that since late 2016 has cooperated with the cartel to limit production.
Analysts expect the group to discuss an increase in production of about 1 million barrels a day, ending the output cut agreed on in 2016.
The cut has since then pushed up the price of crude oil by about 50 percent. The US benchmark in May hit its highest level in three and half years, at $72.35 a barrel.
Upon arriving, the energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Al Mazrouei, said: “It’s going to be hopefully a good meeting. We look forward to having this gathering with OPEC and non-OPEC.”
The 14 countries in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries make more money with higher prices, but are mindful of the fact that more expensive crude can encourage a shift to renewable resources and hurt demand.
“Consumers as well as businesses will be hoping that this week’s OPEC meeting succeeds in keeping a lid on prices, and in so doing calling a halt to a period which has seen a steady rise in fuel costs,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK
The rise in the cost of oil has been a key factor in driving up consumer price inflation in major economies like the US and Europe in recent months.
Already US President Donald Trump has called on OPEC to cut production, tweeting in April and again this month that “OPEC is at it again” by allowing oil prices to rise.
Within OPEC, an increase in output will not affect all countries equally. While Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s biggest producer, is seen to be open to a rise in production, other countries cannot afford to do so. Those include Iran and Venezuela, whose industries are stymied either by international sanctions or domestic turmoil. Iran is a fierce regional rival to Saudi Arabia, meaning the OPEC deal could also influence the geopolitics in the Middle East.