Villagers from Kampot and Takeo provinces have filed complaints with police in Phnom Penh accusing a fly-by-night labour recruiting firm of tricking them into depositing $250 each with promises of well-paid work abroad, officials said yesterday.
The unregistered company, which called itself Fruit Picking Australia Co Ltd, advertised jobs at shoe factories in Hong Kong and China but then disappeared after accepting deposits, said Mao Savoeun, police chief of Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune, where the firm’s offices were located.
“The agency already closed before the people filed the complaints,” Savoeun said. “We received about 15 complaints from Kampot, mostly, and Takeo province, and others. We have referred these cases to the anti-human trafficking police at the Ministry of Interior. I think more people might still come forward.”
Sith Panha, a 47-year-old from Kampot’s Banteay Meas district, said he had made the $250 administrative deposit after hearing a radio advertisement last month promising refunds if the firm could not find work within three months, but soon grew suspicious.
“It sounded very reliable to me. I heard there were many benefits, and that’s why it interested me so I went to the agency to fill in forms on July 7. They said if within three months there was no visa or no work, the agency would pay it all back,” Panha said.
When the firm asked him to take a blood test at a private clinic rather than at the Labour Ministry, he said he checked if the company was registered. It was not, he said, so he went to the Interior Ministry to file a complaint about the lost money and documents.
“They did not accept it,” he said. “They asked me to bring evidence and asked me to gather six or seven complaints. We lost money and important documents like our family books, ID cards and birth certificates, and I think they were too slow in demanding so much evidence before cracking down.”
“We appeal to the Labour Ministry and the police to find the perpetrators for us,” Panha added.
Srun Sokleng, a 27-year-old farmer from Takeo, said that eight members of his family had lost $250 and their documents to Fruit Picking Australia Co Ltd after also hearing the advertisements on the radio for the jobs at a shoe factory in Hong Kong.
“I want the police to bring back the important documents like our passports and identity cards. We lost it all,” Sokleng said. “And if it’s possible, could we get our money back? We are farmers, so it’s hard to save up so much money. We had to take loans.”
Pol Pithey, head of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department, said police were now looking into the firm. “We are investigating. This was not a company, it was a group of cheaters,” he said.
The Information Ministry on July 13 also issued a public letter warning radio stations not to air advertisements from unlicensed firms, after receiving a letter from the Labour Ministry informing it of the issue.