Taiwan sentences nine over Cambodia human trafficking scams

All nine can appeal their sentences, the court said.

A Taiwanese court Thursday sentenced nine people to prison terms ranging from 11 to 18 years on human trafficking charges for luring dozens of people to Cambodia to toil in online scam syndicates.

Online “boiler room” rackets have long had a presence across Southeast Asia, where victims have reported travelling to Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos on false promises of romance or high-paying jobs.

‘High salaries and easy loans’

Those sentenced on Thursday included the head of a human smuggling ring that Taiwanese authorities last year said had advertised promises of “high salaries and easy loans” on social media.

Taipei’s district court sentenced ringleader Lee Cheng-hao to 18 years in prison.

“The nine defendants… formed a criminal organisation of human trafficking and lured people into agreeing to work in Cambodia by offering high salaries or helping to pay off debts,” the court said in a statement Thursday.

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“But in reality the deceived were sold to Cambodia at a cost of hundreds of thousands of (Taiwan) dollars.”

The other defendants were sentenced to between 11 and 16-and-a-half years in prison. 

All nine can appeal their sentences, the court said.

Forced labour for return to Taiwan

The victims’ passports were taken away when they arrived in Cambodia and they were forced to work in scam rings and pay large amounts in exchange for their return to Taiwan.

“Their personal freedom was severely restricted and if they refused to cooperate or if their performances were considered bad, they were beaten, punished, or even sold again,” the court statement said.

Taipei estimates thousands of Taiwanese nationals who have travelled to Cambodia since 2021 have not returned home.

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Some victims have come forward to describe their ordeal of being trafficked to Cambodia, saying they were beaten, locked up and forced to work 16-hour shifts to find more people to scam online.

Last year, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said the trafficking victims “were experiencing a living hell often resulting in torture and even death”.

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