Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities have shut down an apparent human trafficking operation that was being run out of a walled compound with three buildings located in Village 3 of Sihanoukville’s Commune III.

After conducting a surprise administrative inspection of the site on September 13, authorities determined after several days of investigation that there were hundreds of illegal immigrants employed there without work permits.

The workers will be deported from Cambodia to their countries of origin by the National Police’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) after processing and thorough investigation.

According to the provincial administration’s press release, the compound had three buildings – with up to three floors each – for a total of 332 rooms.

All the foreigners found at the site were from China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“During the five-day operation, joint forces found 141 illegal immigrants. Of those, 130 were Chinese and 11 were Vietnamese. Authorities have now sent the foreigners to the GDI’s Investigation and Enforcement Department to deport them from Cambodia,” according to the press release.

Another 262 foreigners at the site were found to be in Cambodia with a valid visa but working without work permits. They were fined by the GDI and will be required to pay a fine before being allowed to apply for any future work permit.

Authorities collected a total of 131,000,000 riel ($31,850) and $78,840 in fines for those working without a permit at the compound.

The provincial Department of Labour and Vocational Training also fined the business itself for violating the law by not declaring all of their foreign employees and employing foreign workers without work permits for a total of 6,720,000 riel ($1,600).

“Police officers have also found and identified several different potential criminal offences in this operation that they continue to investigate that may result in charges: Illegal gambling; confinement and torture; illegal housing violations; illegal weapon possession; procurement of prostitution and human trafficking; as well as possible money laundering offences stemming from illegal gambling, prostitution and human trafficking,” the statement said.

According to the provincial administration, 27 of the foreigners – 12 suspects, five victims and 10 sex workers – were taken to the provincial police station for questioning.

Contraband confiscated at the site included four pistols; 8,776 mobile phones; 804 desktop computers; 16 laptops; 36 passports not in possession by the owners; 12 network storage servers; four pairs of handcuffs; and eight electric stun batons.

Authorities have decided to shut down all businesses in the neighbourhood of the compound while they continue their investigation and determine if other locations are involved in the operation.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, voiced concern about the growth in human trafficking in Cambodia that was responsible for an influx of illegal immigrants that may be in the Kingdom against their will.

He noted that this kind of activity was damaging to the national interest. It could reduce investments in Cambodia and do serious harm to the economy, image and national security.

“We are very concerned about all forms of trafficking, especially related to online activities. As we have seen in the past, many national and international media outlets have reported on trafficking forced labour and confinement in some of the gambling establishments in Preah Sihanouk and the border provinces.

Sam Ath noted that authorities have conducted crackdown on all such activities on an unprecedented scale.