Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP) Larry Sng arrived in Siem Reap early on Wednesday, in what was slammed by one NGO as efforts by Kuala Lumpur to “influence Cambodian law”.
The Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh requested on January 30 “cooperation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the Kingdom of Cambodia and the relevant Cambodian authorities to release all 47 Malaysian detainees”.
However, senior human rights investigator at NGO Adhoc, Soeung Sen Karuna, slammed the diplomatic efforts of the Malaysian government because “no other government should influence Cambodian law”.
“Sometimes, Cambodia deports foreign criminals and we never learn if they receive justice in their home country,” Sen Karuna told The Post on Wednesday.
But Sng rejected the claim. “We respect the laws of the country and we are here to understand the situation of the detainees so that we can convey this back to [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and our government to see what sort of options are available in situations like this.
“So it is imperative that the governments of Malaysia and Cambodia are in constant discussion so that we can understand the situation better and also provide any form of assistance, whether legal or advice to those detainees so they can receive a fair trial … or bring them back to Malaysia, depending on what is decided by Cambodian authorities,” he said.
Sng, the MP for Julau in Sarawak state, where 44 of the 47 detainees hail from, said he was visiting Banteay Meanchey provincial prison in his official capacity to assess the situation facing the group and to learn how they came to be in Cambodia.
“I told [those being held] not to worry because both Malaysian and Cambodian authorities are working closely to secure their release,” Sng said following the meeting.
Prior to meeting them one-on-one, a representative from the Malaysian Embassy and Sng provided “encouragement and hope to the detainees [that] the Malaysian government is doing its very best to secure their release,” said Sng.
The delegation will return to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday to meet with Malaysian deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and family members to “seek more clarity from [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] on what action can be taken through diplomatic channels”, Sng said.
Sng told reporters that the detainees were “well taken care of and well fed”, adding that the head of Banteay Meanchey prison had respected Islamic dietary restrictions by buying food for Muslim detainees out of his own pocket, although some of the detainees had contracted scabies and a rash – requiring an accompanying doctor to prescribe ointments.
The detainees claim they were lured to Cambodia by a Chinese recruitment agency promising high pay for work selling electronics or in the hospitality industry.
After the agency failed to follow through on its promises, the group out of desperation began working for an organisation with links to human trafficking, according to Mohd Azra, special officer to Nurul Izzah Anwar, the MP for Permatang Pauh in Penang.
Azra, following a request from family members, helped track down the detainees to Banteay Meanchey prison after they had been transferred from Poipet, where they had been working, on Christmas Day.
Eight Chinese nationals were also arrested in the same two different raids but were released because the authorities said that they only served as cooks for the operation.
The Malaysian embassy’s statement said, “a bogus company run by Chinese nationals’ recruited the 47 Malaysians”.
“They were promised by this agency, that I believe is a syndicate from China that promised that they would get work in exchange for some work,” said Azra.
Azra said the group became restless after the agency failed to follow through on its promise and the detainees began demanding a refund and a flight home.
“There was a big ‘hoo-ha’ [commotion] at the house where they were staying. Then, one or two days after, the police came and caught everyone including the Chinese,” Azra said.
Sen Karuna said the case shows that the courts are weak, especially concerning Chinese citizens. “The Cambodian government must create a committee to investigate this case to let people know what is happening.”
The Malaysian detainees were arrested on charges of fraud and running an online gambling racket.
They were allegedly monitoring online bets on illegal gambling sites with tablets while living in Poipet and using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology to scam people outside Cambodia.
One ruse was posing as police to tell victims their relatives were in trouble and the only way to help was to send money.
Earlier this year, the General Department of Immigration ordered the deportation of 69 Chinese nationals in relation to similar offences. The Malaysian delegation is hoping for the same result for their citizens.