Malaysia sets up Hong Kong-style ‘special committee’ to rescue Southeast Asia job scam victims
- A foreign ministry-led multi-agency panel will be formed to secure safe return of Malaysians held captive in scam centres in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar
- Lawmaker involved with rescue efforts revealed a local resident was recruiting people for the scam, while a freed victim recalled his ordeal at a casino
“The establishment of this special committee proves the government’s commitment to ensure that Malaysians are brought home safely,” Special Functions Minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad said in the statement.
The scam centres, found in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville and special zones around casinos in Myanmar and Laos, are run mainly by Chinese gangsters and operated by young workers from across Asia – Hongkongers, Malaysians, Chinese and Thais among them – many reeled in by the promise of legitimate work only to become debt slaves unable to leave without paying a ransom.
Thirty-four are still in immigration detention depots, while 99 are missing and the subject of active searches by the respective countries’ authorities.
Opposition lawmaker Sim Chon Siang, who has been heavily involved with rescue efforts, on Wednesday released a photo of a local resident known only as Ah Wie, who has been allegedly recruiting people for the scam.
“Police have this information already. I believe we will have him arrested soon,” Sim said in a press conference at the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) headquarters west of central Kuala Lumpur.
Speaking in Mandarin, the victim who was introduced simply as “Mr A,” said that he was brought into Myanmar by military officers in army fatigues and carrying AK-47 rifles at the town of Myawaddy. From there, he was taken to a notorious casino called KK Park, nearly 500km (310 miles) from Bangkok.
The 30-year-old added he was enticed by agents on WeChat offering salaries of up to 50,000 baht (US$1,346) for “easy work”, prompting him to take up the offer and leave his previous job at a furniture shop. Only after arriving at KK Park did he realise that he was scammed.
Mr A also said that they were allowed to decline the job offer after being told of what they are actually there for – scamming others to make the trip – but they will have to pay back the money the syndicate spent to transport them into Myanmar.
“Food and lodging are charged, everything is itemised,” said the victim, who was only released after paying a hefty ransom of 40,000 ringgit (US$8,786).
The recruits had their phones wiped to factory settings and told to “not look for trouble”.
Mr A said that Malaysians make up just 200 out of the 7,000-odd people at the KK Park complex, with the rest being Africans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Thai, and other foreigners that he “doesn’t know from where”.
“Everyone eats the same food, so when served pork, everyone has to eat it,” he said, noting that seven of the 200 Malaysians are Malay Muslims.
Chiming in, lawmaker Sim said that the 7,000 figure is realistic based on the housing situation at the complex that has 20 blocks, each containing 52 rooms with each accommodating between six to eight people.
“There’s a casino there, a karaoke centre, a supermarket – but it sells shampoos at 70 ringgit (US$15.38) each … and a library, which I don’t know for what,” said Sim, holding a satellite image of the KK Park complex.
He added that rescue efforts were also made more difficult by the fact that every victim was given a fake name while at the complex and their real identity had never been used.
“If you have children in KK Park, their names will be changed. They will have to use a fake name, never their real one,” Sim said.
“‘At KK Park, [whether they are] alive or dead, we all don’t know.”