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Held Malaysians return home

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The 47 Malaysian nationals who had been detained on suspicion of running an online gambling operation and VoIP extortion schemes return home on Sunday. NEW SARAWAK TRIBUNE

Held Malaysians return home

Sixty-eight days after being detained by Cambodian authorities, 47 Malaysian nationals returned home on Sunday, thanks to a successful round of negotiations between senior Cambodian and Malaysian officials. Included in the group was one man who was being treated for gallstones in a Cambodian hospital.

Larry Sng, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Julau in Sarawak state, told The Post that four of the detainees flew to Kuala Lumpur, while the remaining 43 flew to Kuching, the state capital.

Air Asia had pledged to return all 47 Malaysians home, but they were unable to do so on Saturday due to issues with documentation and a lack of available seats.

As a result, the Sarawak state government had to foot at least a portion of the bill, chartering a second flight to Kuching.

Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters that his office issued emergency documents because some of the detainees did not “have passports, which could have gone missing or were taken by certain quarters”.

VoIP scam

The 47 Malaysians were arrested in two separate raids in Poipet town on December 11 last year on suspicion of running an online gambling operation and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) extortion schemes.

Forty-four of the detainees hailed from Sarawak state in Malaysia – an indication that Sarawakians were targeted by unscrupulous actors, according to Sng.

They were allegedly offered up to $1,500 to work in Cambodia by a recruitment agency in the hospitality and electronics sector.

Eight additional Chinese nationals were arrested in the same raids but were released after Cambodian authorities concluded that they only served as cooks for the group.

Their immediate release after questioning raised allegations the Chinese nationals were actually the ringleaders of the operation.

A Malaysian delegation headed by Fatimah Abdullah, Sarawak’s Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the state’s MP for Santubong, and Malaysian embassy officials including temporary charge d’affaires Ruzaimi Mohamad, toured the sites of the raid last Thursday on a fact-finding mission.

The delegation concluded that the Malaysians were held against their will in two houses.

The buildings, separated by less than a kilometre of dirt road on the outskirts of Poipet, had metal grates covering windows and satellite dishes, which may have been used to aid in the crimes.

One of the homes was surrounded by a wall, obscuring the view of the movements of those inside.

‘Big hoo-ha’

Anonymous police officials said the unusual layout of the homes alerted authorities, who swiftly conducted a raid.

However, Mohd Azra, special officer to Nurul Izzah Anwar, the MP for Permatang Pauh in Penang, said the ringleaders of the illegal operation had called on local authorities to raid the locations.

“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.

Wan Junaidi added: “If you look at the house, how could they escape? They are the victims of some kind of illegal human trafficking.”

The Malaysian delegation that toured the sites of the raid in Poipet was the second to arrive in as many days, following MP Sng’s mission to reunite two family members with detainees and assess the situation in Banteay Meanchey provincial prison.

Both groups told reporters they had hoped to resolve the matter before it reached trial – adding that they were prepared to support the detainees in the event that a trial was inevitable – a move criticised by human rights NGO Adhoc as pressure put on the Cambodian justice system by a foreign government.

A statement issued by the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the release of the prisoners thanked Prime Minister Hun Sen along with deputy prime minister Prak Sokhonn, who is also minister of foreign affairs.

In the end, the 47 Malaysians returned home to a media spectacle. News outlets in Malaysia live-streamed the event, broadcasting images from Kuching airport, where family members embraced one another in a tearful reunion.

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