TWENTY foreign nationals arrested on July 15 on suspicion of illegal share dealing
and operating an illegal international telephone gateway used a local NGO as a front
for their scam. The NGO's former secretary-general told the Post that he handed the
organization over to them without undertaking any reference checks whatsoever.
The foreign nationals have been released pending an investigation, but the Cambodian
national, who signed the NGO deal, was still in custody. A senior immigration official
said Poli J Men would be charged soon.
The passports of the foreigners, most of whom are UK nationals, are being held until
the investigation into their dealings is concluded. Chief prosecutor Khut Sopheang
said he could not comment on any charges being brought.
"The result of the investigation is not clear yet so I cannot say," he
said. "There are as yet no charges against the 20 foreigners."
The immigration official said the men were still being questioned to determine who
the ringleader was, and whether any senior officials at the Ministry of Post and
Telecommunications (MPTC) were involved.
Keo Ya, lawyer for all 21 suspects, said his clients were no longer under suspicion
for operating unlicensed financial markets.
"They were accused of only one crime: making international calls illegally,"
It seems the men were running a 'boiler room' share scam operation, where investors
are duped into buying the stocks of non-existent companies. It is unclear whether
that is an offense here since there is no stock exchange.
However, one foreign lawyer based here surmised that the banking law could be broad
enough to make a case against them. The telecoms law, though, clearly outlawed illegal
Chem Sangva, deputy director of the MPTC investigation team, said the group had been
operating since June 26. Long distance calls made to Hong Kong, the UK and other
European countries had cost the government approximately $27,000.
"They operate financial markets without the permission of the [finance ministry],"
he said. "They said were an NGO called the Cambodian Rehabilitation and Development
Program (CRDP) ... but it was a cover for the financial operation inside the building."
The Post has determined that CRDP is a local NGO that has been active for the past
three years. The NGO's former secretary-general, who wished to remain anonymous,
said he "gave it away" to two men on June 13.
"Some people came here to see me [and] said they were with a university research
project. They asked how they could start doing this in Cambodia to attract funds
and donations," he explained. "I said: 'If this is true, I will give you
The man claimed this altruistic gesture was based on trust, and said no money changed
hands. However he admitted he did not checked their credentials: "How can I
check? There was no money involved, no transactions involved. I just gave it away.
I thought it is better if the NGO can work and do good for Cambodia. Why should I
He said the two men visited him around June 11. One was the accused Khmer national
Men, while the other, he thought, was called Paul and came from England or Canada.
A June 13 letter obtained by the Post specifies that 'all interests, duties and rights
be transferred as from this date hereto' to Men, whose fingerprint appears at the
end of the document.
Men said he had no idea about illegal operations at CRDP, and thinks his business
partner deceived him.
"I was accused of operating the international phone calls illegally. Actually,
I don't understand. I have the internet system connected legally. I firmly believe
that it is not my mistake," he said. "It could be two things: I could have
been cheated by Paul, or I was treated badly by a person who wants to compete with
The mysterious 'Paul' is believed to have fled to Bangkok after the probe began.
Authorities said they were still investigating his disappearance.
Lawyer Keo Ya told the Post that if Men paid the government the revenue that was
lost, all charges would be dropped against his 21 clients. The immigration official
rejected that, and said Men would likely go to court by July 19.