Taiwanese officials have arrived in Cambodia to push for seven of their nationals – among 31 suspects arrested over a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) scam – to be repatriated to the island instead of mainland China, according to a statement from Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry.
Uk Hai Sela, the head of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Department, on Monday denied that any of the 31 people arrested that day over the VoIP scam were Taiwanese, and said that they would all be deported to China once the Chinese government arranged transport.
However, a Chinese-language statement from Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said it had dispatched officials posted in Vietnam to check on seven of the arrested. Taiwan has not had representation in Cambodia since 1997, when Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered its Phnom Penh offices shuttered.
“After checking with the Cambodian authorities, we found out that seven of the arrested suspects are from our country,” the Tuesday press release said. “Ho Chi Minh City has sent representatives to Cambodia to confirm the identity of the suspects, and provided the necessary assistance.”
“After contacting the Cambodian authorities, and working with China’s authorities the suspects are likely to be repatriated to mainland China, but we will continue to do our best to . . . get Cambodian authorities to follow ‘international jurisdiction’, to repatriate the suspects back to our country to be investigated and tried under our laws.”
Similar deportations have raised diplomatic hackles in the past. In one case in June of 2016, China suspended relations with Taiwan over the island’s protest of Cambodia’s deportation of 25 of its nationals to the mainland, a move Taiwan called “absurd”.
Hai Sela yesterday maintained he had no knowledge that there were Taiwanese among the 31 arrested as part of Monday’s latest Chinese VoIP scam bust. “Please ask the Taiwanese police, because while I checked them, I did not find any documents that clarify they are Taiwanese,” Hai Sela said.
However, Sok Phal, the chief of the Immigration Department, confirmed that seven Taiwanese were among the arrestees and that he did not know to which country they would be deported. He also said that no officials from the Taiwanese offices in Vietnam had contacted him about the arrests.
“Until now we have not received information from the Chinese and Taiwanese governments about whether or not and when we need to deport those criminals back to their home countries,” Phal said. “Perhaps the Chinese and Taiwanese governments have not found a flight yet.”
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheap said that he was unaware of the details of the VoIP scam arrests and also did not know about the arrival of Taiwanese officials from Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sountry could not be reached yesterday.
An official at the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.
The Cambodian government under Hun Sen has since the 1997 closure of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Phnom Penh repeatedly stressed that it adheres to the People’s Republic of China’s “One China” policy, which holds Taiwan to be a non-independent province of China.
Additional reporting by Cindy Co and Brian Ng