Cambodian Minister of Interior says efforts underway to rescue human trafficking victims, three Chinese fugitive tycoons behind major underground gambling hubs in Southeast Asia

From left to right: Dong Lecheng, Xu Aimin, She Zhijiang.

20th August 2022 – (Hong Kong) Employment fraud cases in Southeast Asia were exposed recently and many Hong Kong residents are still reportedly trapped in forced labour camps after being lured to work in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries.

Cambodian Minister of Interior, Sar Kheng said on Friday (19th) that he is making every effort to rescue local human trafficking victims, saying that the Ministry of Interior is inspecting all foreigners living in Cambodia nationwide with the exception of embassy personnel. Kheng revealed that the police in Kandal Province and Sihanoukville (Province in southwest Cambodia) had sent people to inspect hotels, rental properties and casinos where foreigners live or work on Thursday (18th). Several people were arrested on suspicion of organising human trafficking. Some suspected victims have been rescued and they are verifying whether their confessions are true. Kheng did not disclose the nationality and number of these people, but confirmed that some foreigners confessed to the police that they were lured by high salaries and thought they would go to the local area to engage in legal work, but they were later forced to engage in illegal work without consent after they arrived. In addition, the deputy director of the Cambodian National Police said that in recent years, the authorities have discovered many online schemes to lure illegal workers and they have arrested hundreds of people from mainland China and Taiwan involved in the massive fraud.

Meanwhile, some Taiwanese syndicates also lured victims to work in Southeast Asia with high salaries, and some victims were brutally treated. They were even imprisoned and their personal freedom restricted. According to the rescued victims, they were detained in Sihanoukville after being lured to Cambodia. In fact, most of the enterprises in Sihanoukville are funded by Chinese businessmen who have been involved in bribery, gambling and fraud cases in China, but because of their close relationship with Cambodian government and business, they have become prosperous in the local area.

During months of investigation, Al Jazeera spoke to more than a dozen victims in Cambodia, China, Thailand and more recently Malaysia who escaped from Cambodian cyber-scam operations and allege their captors are committing atrocities.  It reported that Chinese cyber-scam operations are big business, stealing tens of billions of U.S. dollars a year. The scammers target not just their own countrymen but foreigners from Europe to the US to Australasia. Many Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents were also found to be trapped in the local area.

Al Jazeera reported that there are many large-scale Chinese-funded parks in Sihanoukville. Among them, “Chinatown” is the most famous district and it comprises eleven-floor buildings shaped like a giant “U,” located less than 200 meters from Otres beach in Sihanoukville, a city famous for its white sands.  Le Monde reported that Chinatown is just one of a dozen hubs specialising in underground gambling and online scams in Cambodia. There is also White Sand 3, with its labour camp-looking entrance and sinister barred windows; Victory Hill, where several unfinished towers surround large buildings. Other similar facilities also exist on the borders with Thailand and Vietnam. Within their walls, tens of thousands of people live and work under the rule of Chinese bosses connected with gangsters from various backgrounds. There are also two major parks engage in illegal online activities including Jinshui and K.B Hotel.

Local Hong Kong media, HK01 reported that the mastermind behind “Jinshui” is Dong Lecheng, a Yunnan ethnic entrepreneur and the founder of Yunnan Jingcheng Group Co., Ltd. He is one of the most well-known Chinese investors in Cambodia, and is also known as the richest man in Ruili, Yunnan. Jingcheng Group spans the fields of land bridge engineering, hotel, real estate, medical and tourism development. It is also the parent company of Yunnan’s first local airline, Ruili Airlines, Cambodia JC International Airlines and Dehong South Asia Airlines. In addition to being the president of Jingcheng Group, Dong Lecheng has served as a member of the 8th and 9th CPPCC Yunnan Provincial Committee, and a deputy to the Dehong Prefecture People’s Congress. In 2014, Ruili Airlines, the first local private aviation company in Yunnan, officially started operation. Dong Lecheng, then chairman of Ruili Airlines, attended the opening ceremony at Kunming Changshui International Airport. In the same year, Dong Lecheng ranked fourth in Yunnan Province on the Hurun Report with a fortune of 3 billion yuan.

Dong Lecheng has been involved in numerous bribery cases and was sentenced for illegally investing in casinos in northern Myanmar. In August 2008, the 20 defendants in the case involving “largest online gambling case in the country” was sentenced by the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court in Yunnan Province. All 20 defendants were sentenced for the crime of opening a casino. Dong Lecheng was found to be related to casinos in northern Myanmar, but he was sentenced to a lightly suspended sentence after he was brought to justice with repentance and major meritorious deeds. In November 2014, Dong Lecheng was investigated by the Kunming People’s Procuratorate on suspicion of bribery. He later focused his business on Cambodia. In September 2018, he signed a cooperation agreement with the arrested Macao tycoon Alvin Chau, the then founder of Suncity Group to jointly invest US$360 million ( around HK$2.8 billion) to develop an entertainment city in Sihanoukville.

In September 2018, Dong Lecheng signed a cooperation agreement with the arrested Macao tycoon Alvin Chau, the then founder of Suncity Group to jointly invest US$360 million ( around HK$2.8 billion) to develop an entertainment city in Sihanoukville.

Meanwhile, the owner of K.B HOTEL at KH Krong Preah Sihanouk Xu Aimin Road , Village 6 Sangkat 4, Sihanoukville Sihanouk Province, Cambodia is K.B.X INVESTMENT CO.LTD. Its Chairman is Xu Aimin, a well-known Chinese investor in Cambodia. He has good relations with Cambodian politicians and he was awarded the local ‘Oknha’ title for his contribution to the country. Xu Aimin was not only sentenced to ten years in prison by China for running an illegal gambling syndicate, but also used the HSBC Bank in Hong Kong to open an account to launder money. In 2013, a red Interpol alert was issued against him.

On 19th October, 2010, the Jingzhou City Public Security Bureau announced that it had uncovered a criminal syndicate that organised online baccarat gambling activities. In March 2012, the  National Central Bureau issued an Interpol red notice to the core members of the gambling syndicate. Xu Aimin, the chairman of the gambling group, had been based there for a long time because of his Cambodian citizenship and his relationship with Cambodian high-level officials. In December 2012, Xu Aimin set up a limited company in Hong Kong. Six months later, Interpol listed him as a wanted criminal on a red notice. But he had fled Hong Kong a month before the arrest warrant was issued. The judgment of the High Court shows that in June 2013, Hong Kong received a red notice issued by Interpol. The defendant, Xu Aimin, holds a Hong Kong ID card, a Chinese passport and a Cambodian passport. He is the leader of an illegal gambling network in China. He is wanted by China after a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison. On 29th November of the same year, the Hong Kong court issued an arrest warrant for Xu Aimin, on the grounds that he used five accounts of a Hong Kong HSBC branch to launder proceeds of his online gambling, and the money laundered amounted to more than HK$300 million. He was charged with violating Section 25 of the Organised and Serious Crimes Act and he was also charged with five counts of “money laundering” and all his funds involved were frozen.

Subsequently in August 2017, Xu Aimin established K.B.X INVESTMENT CO.LTD. in Cambodia focusing on the development of large-scale apartments in Sihanoukville, and later invested in the K.B Hotel.

In addition to Dong lecheng and Xu Aimin, another heavyweight in the area is the recently arrested She Zhijiang, the mastermind behind “KK Park area” who holds a Cambodian passport and changed his name to “Tang Kriang Kai”. Through the Hong Kong-registered company YATAI INTERNATIONAL HOLDING GROUP LIMITED, he operates local casinos and other businesses. He was wanted by China and Interpol before being recently arrested in Thailand recently. The Chinese citizen, She Zhijiang, has been involved in the illegal gambling and lottery business where he has fraud and income large sums of money. While fleeing as a fugitive from the Beijing police since 2012, he has been living in various countries like the Philippines, Myanmar, and Colombia.  He has been a fugitive and uses different names in running his operation. He goes by the name Tang Kriang Kai, Dylan She, She Lunkai, and many others as a precaution against getting caught. One of his victims was scammed over enormous sum by the gambling site operated by Zhijiang. He reportedly committed suicide as per report in Thailand media.  

After running the illegal gambling and lottery business and exploring large sums of the money from Chinese users, he was on a warrant of arrest from the Chinese police department, and his eight accomplices were caught. He has been a fugitive ever since the incident in 2012. The police have submitted the criminal to the criminal court after a week of arrest. He had been planning his next move to Thailand, but his Visa was cancelled after he was taken into custody on the night of a weekday.  She Zhijiang is estimated to have a net worth of several hundred million dollars in U.S. generated from the gambling operation illegally offline and online in the Southeast Asian countries. In addition, he has invested in the countries like Myanmar and Cambodia after earning his citizenship. His involvement includes the Yatai New City development, estimated at US$14 billion. 

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Under Secretary for Security, Michael Cheuk Hauyip said on a radio program yesterday (19th) that he had received three more requests for help from Hong Kong residents who were suspected of being lured to Southeast Asian countries. 3 of them were linked to fraudulent recruitment cases. One of them is in Thailand while 2 of them are in Cambodia. Together with those who are still being falsely imprisoned in Myanmar, the location of the total 11 residents have not yet been identified. However, the relevant Hong Kong residents can still contact their families from time to time, reporting that they are temporarily safe, but their personal freedom is restricted.

The spokesperson for the Security Bureau said during media briefing two days ago that a special investigation team has been set up to investigate the missing persons in Southeast Asia, and the authorities had received help from 20 Hong Kong residents in Cambodia since January this year, of which 12 were safe and 10 had returned to Hong Kong. As for the remaining 8 Hong Kong residents who lost contact, it is believed that their personal freedom is restricted and he stressed that the government would try its best to provide assistance.