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Boss of labour firm charged

THE director of a local labour recruitment firm has been arrested and charged with violating the Kingdom’s anti-human trafficking law, police said yesterday.

Pol Khemra, deputy director of the Department of Police at the Interior Ministry, said Sen Ly, the director of VC Manpower Company, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of having illegally detained workers at various training facilities.

"The man was ordered to serve pre-trial detention behind bars because he has been charged with illegal human detention under Article 21 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation," he said.

The charge carries a possible prison sentence of three to five years. Court officials familiar with the case could not be reached yesterday.

VC Manpower, which trains young women to work abroad as domestic servants, has been on the radar of local officials since July, when a woman fled one of its training centres and said she had been held there against her will. Days later, officials announced that they had found 24 underage workers being trained by the company.

The Labour Ministry briefly barred the firm from recruiting clients, but then absolved it of wrongdoing soon after, saying the girls had forged documents to demonstrate they were of age.

On August 2, Long Sakan filed a complaint accusing VC Manpower staff at a Phnom Penh training centre of abusing her daughter, who has since gone to work in Malaysia. Later that month, Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a summons for Sen Ly. But when police went to question him on August 16, Sen Ly was in Preah Vihear province.

On September 5, a 30-year-old trainee sustained light injuries after she fashioned a rope out of various pieces of clothing and tried to rappel down the side of a three-storey training centre in Sen Sok district.

Police said the woman, Vann Synoun, had not been held against her will, but in an interview last week she said she had been told she would not be allowed to leave until she repaid US$800 she allegedly owed the company.

When questioned shortly after Vann Synoun’s fall, Pol Khemra said police had decided to "suspend" all complaints complaint against Sen Ly. Yesterday, however, he acknowledged that the investigation had never stopped.

"It was not easy for us to arrest this man, and we are happy with our good result," he said.

He said police were also pursuing another VC Manpower official who they suspect has fled to Malaysia.

In addition, he said police were investigating "a few other recruitment firms which we suspect are illegally detaining workers".

Huy Pichsovann, a labour programme officer at the Community Legal Education Centre, said yesterday that his organisation had received four separate complaints from family members of women training with VC Manpower.

"We have complaints from workers’ family members to help their daughters leave, because they have been banned from leaving the company, they don’t have enough food to eat and they are finding it difficult to sleep," he said.

He said he had also received a complaint from an 18-year-old woman staying at the facility from which Vann Synoun escaped. That facility was quietly closed down last week, and the complainant reported having heard that its 200 trainees would be transferred to Kandal province’s Takhmao town.

"She told me that the workers in that firm are like animals because they aren’t allowed to go out, and sometimes they have to struggle to get food to eat," he said.

"It is good that the police and the court officials have taken measures to arrest this company director and to punish him through the law, but we need more help in order to release the workers and arrest some people involved in this case."

VC Manpower officials could not be reached yesterday.

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