Cambodia's National Police chief Neth Savoeun has told foreign embassies that it won’t tolerate “foreign mafia” in the Kingdom, in what appears to be a thinly veiled message to Russia concerning recent conflict between Russian nationals in Sihanoukville.
The comments, quoted yesterday on the National Police website, were delivered to representatives of 27 embassies, as well as members of the business community, during a meeting at the Interior Ministry to announce plans to increase security for tourists and foreign businesses while also tackling crimes committed by foreigners.
“Tourists and foreign investors are welcomed in Cambodia, and the police will assure better security,” Savoeun said, before adding that police “will not allow the foreign mafia to stay in Cambodia”.
According to the statement, Savoeun has been monitoring recent crimes committed by foreigners in Sihanoukville, where a feud between rival Russian businessmen – property tycoon and fugitive Sergei Polonsky and long-time Cambodia-based expatriate Nikolai Doroshenko – has spilled out of the courtroom into alleged attempted assassinations, with police continuing to investigate an explosion that destroyed Doroshenko’s Land Rover on Friday.
The seaside city has also seen a spate of incidents connected to the scrapped Eastern European dance festival kaZantip, including a vicious brawl at Queenco hotel on February 13, which left three men injured.
Speaking last night, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith denied Savoeun was addressing a particular country, adding that “monitoring” Sihanoukville referred to a recent complaint by the Russian embassy about street crimes against Russian nationals.
“He was talking in general about mafia,” Chantharith said.
“We don’t have any [mafia] in Cambodia and we will not welcome any mafia in Cambodia,” he added, summarising Savoeun’s comments.
However, independent analyst Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said the comments were likely directed to Russian diplomats in the Kingdom and appeared to be an indirect way of sounding out Russian opinion the issue, rather than a stab at the embassy’s inaction.
“It is a reference to Russia and the Russian situation in Sihanoukville; it’s pretty obvious just how bad things have gotten and it’s pretty much been ignored,” Virak said. “I think [the police] would be seeking approval and eventually cooperating with the Russian authorities.”
The Russian Embassy yesterday declined to comment about the meeting.
Meanwhile, police are still seeking several suspects in relation to the February 13 brawl.
Russian businessman Oleg Tikhanov, whose employees were linked to the incident, has also fled after it emerged he was on Interpol’s wanted list for crimes in Russia including possession of arms and explosives linked to organised crime.
Sihanoukville expatriate and Koh Rong Dive Centre managing director Sakip Capal said that since the arrest of Turkish national Mehmet Tekoglu – who he claimed had waged a campaign of intimidation against businesses in the area – Russians were the only ones “acting like mafia”.
“When they are talking about mafia, mainly they are talking about Russians,” said Capal.
“The big guys, the mafia-type ones, they should be cleared out of the country for sure, they might bring in some money in the short term but in the long term they will do a lot of damage,” he continued.
“I know of expat workers who are planning to leave because they’re scared of the situation.”
During the meeting, Savoeun also noted other recent crimes committed by foreigners, including backpackers deported after riding naked around Kandal province on a motorbike, “fights over girlfriends” and a “revenge shooting” – an apparent reference to an attempt on Tekoglu’s life in Sihanoukville.
According to the National Police website, Ministry of Interior secretary of state Em Sam An acknowledged at the Friday meeting that there had been problems with foreigners.
“There are challenges and negative issues with foreigners involved in crime; this issue has affected security, culture and face of the country.”