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Police target pawnshops

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The ongoing crackdown on stolen goods has police interrogating pawnshop owners about the items they have on sale – and where they acquired them

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Sovann philong

Men load suspected stolen motorbikes onto a truck in Phnom Penh last week.

Hundreds of motorbikes police suspect were stolen have been impounded pending further investigation as a nationwide sweep of illegal pawnshops dealing in suspect goods continues, law enforcement officials say.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Monday said figures cited in local media reports overstated the scale of the confiscations of stolen motorbikes during a crackdown in seven districts across the Kingdom.

"It is not true that more than 2,000 motorbikes have been seized from illegal pawnshops," he said, adding the number was far lower and said police are only holding vehicles that they suspect have been stolen from their original owners.

"We are interrogating illegal pawnshop owners to identify the people who brought the irregular motorbikes to the shop and both [the persons who stole the motorbikes and the illegal pawnshop owners] will face penalties," he said, adding that the original owners could come and look for their stolen vehicles at police stations in their area.

WE ARE INTERROGATING ILLEGAL PAWNSHOP OWNERS...AND [THEY] WILL FACE PENALTIES.

The recent crackdown was started after a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen to improve local security, district governor of Tuol Kork in Phnom Penh, Seng Rattanak, told the Post last week. In Tuol Kork district alone, police seized 779 motorbikes from 13 illegal pawnshops.

Sam Rainsy lawmaker Yim Sovann said he welcomed the government's crackdown on illegal pawnshops but said authorities should combine it with efforts to stop illegal gambling.

"I strongly urge the government to completely close illegal gambling in hotels and karaoke clubs [because they] are now expanding their routes of theft, robbery and pawning activities," he said, suggesting that when people lose at illegal gambling places, they might steal motorbikes to earn back the money. He did not have any concrete details to support this claim.

Investigations ongoing

In Battambang, district police Chief Tuch Ra said Monday that police were still investigating which of the seized motorbikes were stolen. Reports will be sent to the district prosecutor's office for further investigation, but no cases have been handed over so far, he added.

At the provincial office of rights group Adhoc, coordinator Yin Mengly said he was positive about the crackdown, but that he questioned the effectiveness of the efforts.

"This crackdown [only] comes after the prime minister's order, [and] the authorities never cracked down on illegal pawnshops and illegal gambling in the past," he said, suggesting that these authorities had benefited from the activities by receiving bribes for not taking action.

Tuch Ra denied this allegation, saying he knew that there were several illegal pawnshops in his area, but that police are taking action.

"We are now conducting an investigation to ask for a prosecutor's warrant to check the shops and inspect afterwards," he said.

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