Individual holding “Cambodian passports” who commit crimes abroad are responsible for their own actions, said officials and commentators following one of Singapore’s largest ever crackdowns on money laundering on August 16. Three of the 10 suspects arrested reportedly held Cambodian passports.
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) arrested the 10, aged 31 and 44, one of them a woman, for their suspected involvement in money laundering, forgery as well as resisting lawful apprehension. None of the suspects are Singaporean nationals or permanent residents. Another 12 are assisting the police with their investigation while eight others were on the run as of press time.
According to the SPF, the suspects were involved in “overseas organised crime activities including scams and online gambling”. Cash and assets worth a total of almost S$1 billion (around US$737 million) have been seized and frozen, the majority consisting of 94 properties and 50 luxury vehicles worth S$815 million.
The police said 35 bank accounts containing S$110 million were frozen, while more than S$23 million in cash was seized. Officers also confiscated other objects including two gold bars, more than 250 luxury bags and watches, and more than 270 other high-value items.
The operation was carried out by a task force of 400 officers from various departments, and followed the receipt of information concerning possible illicit activities including the use of suspected forged documents that were used to substantiate the source of funds in Singaporean bank accounts.
According to the Singapore news outlet The Straits Times, three of the 10 charged hold Cambodian passports and citizenship. The media identified the three as Chen Qingyuan, 33, Su Baolin, 41, and Su Wenqiang, 31.
Chen Qingyuan, who also holds passports from two other nations, was charged with money laundering. Police seized nearly S$600,000 in cash, other foreign currencies, 23 pieces of jewellery, and six luxury watches, it said.
Su Baolin was charged with using a forged document. He was also allegedly found in possession of another foreign passport. More than S$777,000 in cash was confiscated, along with other valuable items. Police also froze his three bank accounts, with a total balance of more than S$2.4 million.
Su Wenqiang was charged with one count of money laundering. He was also reportedly holding another passport. Police froze eight of his bank accounts with a total balance of more than S$10 million, in addition to the more than $600,000 in cash and 11 pieces of jewellery that was seized, it added.
According to the police, the other suspects are Cypriots, Turkish, Chinese and Vanuatuan.
Cambodian National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said on August 17 that he had heard about the case in the news, but declined to comment as the case was being investigated by Singapore authorities.
An Sokkhoeun, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told The Post that the Cambodian embassy in Singapore was working with Singapore authorities to verify the information.
“If the case involves Cambodian citizens, the embassy will provide them with consular assistance,” he said.
The Cambodian embassy in Singapore told The Post that they were aware of the case, and had been notified by Singaporean authorities that a person had been charged by the court.
The embassy is contacting Singapore authorities to seek a visit to verify the person’s identity and provide them with consular assistance, as well as to seek clarification about the other cases.
Preliminary research by The Post through the Royal Gazette found that both Su Baolin and Su Wenqiang received Cambodian citizenship through the naturalisation process in 2019, and Chen Qingyuan in 2018.
Following the government’s efforts to restrict money laundering offences, Cambodia was removed from the money-laundering “Gray List” of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) – an intergovernmental body set up to develop policies to combat international money laundering and financing of terrorism – in February.
Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International (TI) Cambodia, said the case in Singapore could affect the Kingdom’s international reputation. Because the suspects reportedly held Cambodian citizenship, the police would investigate whether any of their financial transactions took place in Cambodian territory, he added.
He said the case also had the potential to affect Cambodia, in terms of issuing citizenship for foreigners, especially when it comes to transparency and credibility.
“One lesson that can be learned from this case is that we should abide by the laws when issuing citizenship to foreign nationals, with transparency and integrity,” he said, explaining that this would prevent foreign criminals from using Cambodia to commit crimes.
According to Cambodia’s Law on Nationality promulgated in 2018, foreign immigrants can request citizenship through the naturalisation process.
To obtain naturalised citizenship, foreign nationals must maintain good behaviour and morality, have not been convicted of a serious crime or misdemeanour and must have legally resided in Cambodia for more than seven years.
They must also be able to speak Khmer, understand Cambodian history and demonstrate that they will be able to integrate into Khmer society with harmony, in accordance with the Kingdom’s culture and traditions.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said crimes happen in all countries, and that criminal responsibility is taken by the individuals who break the law.
“Whether they obtained citizenship through naturalisation, or by some other method, when they hold a Cambodian passport, they are Cambodian,” he said, when asked about “foreigners” holding Cambodian citizenship.
He urged for thorough assessments to be completed when providing foreign migrants with Cambodian citizenship.
“We must evaluate whether the applicants are qualified, whether they respect Cambodian law and have excellent morality. We must also examine their reputation and so on.
“We must take steps to ensure that it is impossible for anyone to obtain Cambodian citizenship illegally. If they can become Cambodians, then we may become their victims,” he said.