PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Tuesday announced that he would seek the replacement of Chamkarmon district Governor Lo Yuy, whom he accused of accepting bribes from two “illegal” karaoke clubs that were recently raided.
The proposed move would mark the first time a government official has faced dismissal as part of continued vice crackdowns sparked earlier this year by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has publicly accused officials of intentionally obstructing efforts to stamp out prostitution and human trafficking.
During a meeting at City Hall, Kep Chuktema said Lo Yuy’s failure to crack down on one of the raided clubs had been particularly egregious because it is located close to the Phnom Penh governor’s home.
“I would like to announce that I will request that the Ministry of Interior replace you,” Kep Chuktema said at the meeting, addressing Lo Yuy. “I have a report that you take money every month from the clubs. This case is a serious case, and I say it is time to change the district governor. I cannot receive blame because of you. I know it is difficult for you to crack down because you take bribes from them.”
He added: “This is an area for the district officials to control. Do not depend on the municipal police force or Military Police to lead you.”
On April 25, municipal Anti-Human Trafficking Police raided the Nam Trea Karaoke Club, where they found drugs on the premises and arrested 39 people, said Keo Thea, head of the municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Bureau. Seven people were sent to prison, Keo Thea said. The Nam Trea Karaoke Club is located in Phsar Deumthkov commune.
More than 100 people were rounded up in a weekend raid of the Mega Karaoke Club in Boeung Keng Kong I commune, where Kep Chuktema’s home is also located.
The Saturday night raid netted “one package containing marijuana, a parcel with ecstacy, 300 grams of methamphetamine, as well as other instruments for using drugs,” Men Ra, head of the Anti-Drug Research Bureau of the Military Police, told the Post on Monday.
“We are now still interrogating them for further information against the five people on suspicion of drug-dealing … before deciding whether to send them to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for further investigation,” he said Tuesday.
Kep Chuktema did not say during the meeting whether he had a replacement Chamkarmon district governor in mind. Neither he nor Lo Yuy could be reached for comment after the meeting. Interior Ministry officials could also not be reached for comment.
The most recent raids appeared to be a continuation of vice crackdowns nationwide, which observers believe were prompted by orders from the premier.
In March, Hun Sen called out senior officials who he said were guilty of “misconduct” for intentionally thwarting efforts to reduce human trafficking.
“I am regretful of the misconduct of some leaders who have interfered with the court and law enforcement officials,” said Hun Sen, who did not name specific officials. “The culture of impunity is not acceptable.”
Those who advocate on behalf of sex workers say the crackdowns – which have targeted drugs and prostitution in places where sex workers routinely operate, such as karaoke clubs – could have potentially dangerous consequences for an already marginalised group, and that they could thwart key HIV-prevention efforts.
The Post previously reported that in the two weeks following Hun Sen’s admonishment, at least 280 sex workers lost their jobs as part of police raids on brothels as well as informal establishments such as karaoke clubs and massage parlours, according to figures provided by sources who work with or advocate for sex workers.
Ly Pisey, a technical assistant with the Women’s Network for Unity, a collective of sex workers in Phnom Penh, said she did not have statistics on the number of people in the sex industry who have been affected by crackdowns since Hun Sen’s orders. But arrests are still frequent, she said.
“The crackdowns are still going on,” said Ly Pisey, who attributed the raids to the premier’s speech.
And with the continued raids, many sex workers are being put at greater risk as they are pushed further underground, she said.
“If they are out in the open and accepted, it is easy for them to be protected,” Ly Pisey said. “But now it is like they are working as thieves. They’re trying to hide themselves in order to maintain their work.”
Many sex workers are refusing to accept condoms, fearing they will be arrested if they are caught with them, Ly Pisey added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY