Trafficked Taiwanese rescued from a scam company in Cambodia... was it worth it?
Updated: Jun 16
GASO, along with journalists and anti-human trafficking NGOs, embarked on a rescue mission of a Taiwanese citizen trapped working for a scam company in Dara Sakor, Cambodia
Unhelpfulness of local authorities
Indians and Bangladeshis are tricked also by Chinese scam companies
How rescuee was recruited in the first place by a long-known friend
As the rescuee recounts his experiences, questions are raised about his own role in his circumstances
Who owns Dara Sakor?
Properties in Long Bay, Dara Sakor developed by Chinese businessmen
Zhen Xu (alias) is a Taiwanese trapped working for a scam company in Long Bay in the Chinese development properties in Dara Sakor, Koh Kong province of Cambodia. The company targets Americans, Europeans, and lately Japanese for pig-butchering scams. Zhen Xu was able to reach out online to his father in Taiwan, who reached out to Taiwanese anti-scam YouTuber Bump who then passed on his case to GASO. Since some GASO members at the time were attending a UN-sponsored summit of human rights and anti-human trafficking NGOs, GASO took Zhen Xu's case as an opportunity to expose the scam industry in Southeast Asia.
In the lead up to the rescue, the father contacted Taiwanese authorities for help about his son. On June 9 an entourage of GASO, journalists from VOD, Cambodian human rights organization ADHOC, the China-Cambodia Charity Team, Bump's team, and finally, Zhen Xu's father set out to Daro Sakor, about 9 hours drive from Phnom Penh. They brought along something that would hopefully make things easier: an official letter from Taiwanese diplomats to the Cambodian government asking for assistance in freeing their trapped citizen.
Letter from the de facto Taiwanese embassy in Vietnam. (Taiwan doesn't have a diplomatic office in Cambodia, and so the one in Vietnam is the closest one)
The hotel in Dara Sokar where the rescue mission stayed
The next morning June 10 the rescue mission presented themselves to the local police station with their letter. The police processed them for 1.5 hours, including taking pictures of everyone in the group. Fortunately, they all the group all kept their face masks on, as it was later found out that all their pictures were sent to the scam compound management within an hour. This was all the assistance the group got.
The local police station the group went to.
As Zhen Xu recounted later, the scam company bosses first panicked when the police told them that someone with an embassy letter was looking for a Zhen Xu. The bosses then immediately demanded Zhen Xu pay the customary "redemption fee" of $7,000, which Zhen Xu promptly paid. (Some form of exit fee is a common practice among Chinese scam companies, supposedly for acquiring, transporting and housing the employee.) The management also pushed Zhen Xu to quickly pack up to leave, or he will bring bad reputation to the company. On the side however the bosses tried arranging for another scam company in Sihanoukville, Cambodia to pick Zhen Xu up --basically selling him (another common practice).
Zhen Xu heard of the plan to sell him to another scam company, so he took his time in packing his things and making himself hard to find. The 3pm pick-up time for the Sihanoukville company came and passed without Zhen Xu leaving. All the while, the scam company boss got ahold of the father by phone and demanded ransom. The father instead threatened back that he knows people in high places, that international media is going to be watching them, and that they're already right there in the compound's vicinity.
Geolocation of the rescue team, and the purported location of the subject
By the next afternoon on June 11, the company boss decided to try letting Zhen Xu out. Not wanting to be seen, the company management asked a compound security guard to accompany Zhen Xu to the agreed-upon location at a round-about. Midway the boss changed his mind and texted both of them to come back, but by then Zhen Xu was outside. He ignored the order and never returned.
Reunion of the father and son
Where Zhen Xu was confined in the Chinese-owned development property, Block 5, 4th floor.
Interviewing the rescue subject
Zhen Xu was confined and worked inside one of the real estate properties developed by Chinese investors. Reportedly, whole buildings are dedicated to doing online scams. His particular company targeted Americans and Europeans, though with business doing poorly they are turning (back) to the Japanese market. Zhen Xu claims to be bad at scamming so he was assigned as an "assistant supervisor" to a team all composed of Indians and Bangladeshis.
As an aside, Zhen Xu recounts that the company management makes fun of their South Asian employees for being "fucking stupid“ for paying to get to this "job". The indentured employees in this industry are usually tricked into coming by the company providing free travel and accommodation, but the South Asian employees actually paid local agents $6,000 to go to Cambodia for work. And even while there, those Indians in the company are "worthless" because they can't scam for their lives, and so they were only assigned to add people on social media all day and ask for their WhatsApp. The more experienced Chinese scammers then take over (fattening the customers, opening "accounts" and "closing").
Here is what GASO was able to further surmise:
Zhen Xu is in his early 30s and has a university degree. With no work for him in Taiwan, he was told by a friend from high school of high-paying jobs in Cambodia. That friend, Chen Meiyue (real name), is working as "PR" and drinks server for a Chinese company boss in Cambodia, and worked as a dealer for a Chinese casino in the Philippines 2 years prior. Chen Meiyue claims to earn more than $10,000 a month working in Cambodia, easy. Enticed, Zhen Xu hence flew to Phnom Penh in November 2021 and after a couple of days to Ores Beach in Sihanoukville, where he was then trapped by the scam company (passport confiscated, restricted from going out, etc).
Chen Meiyue (left), the friend who recruited Zhen Xu (right)
He worked for 4 months there and earned enough to pay his redemption for $2,500. Chen Meiyue again convinced him, this time to stay in Cambodia and come work for her company. Again, Zhen Xu was tricked, which brings the story to where his father got involved. The father actually knows Chen Meiyue as a longtime friend of his son, and when he confronted Chen Meiyue (online) she pleaded ignorance of what happened to Zhen Xu, about human trafficking, and swore that she did not profit a single cent from recruiting Zhen Xu. There was another person GASO knows who was recruited by a close associate of Chen Meiyue.
GASO's take: GASO always tries to vet the sincerity and complicity of trapped company workers. While Zhen Xu claims to not have committed any online crimes, this could be another case of a human trafficking victim turned volunteer. Zhen Xu would not answer how he got to pay for all his redemption fees. Four months is quite a short stint. Scam company managers would usually point to this to their new recruits as an example of a hard worker. On the other hand, trafficking victims are stuck in a bind and get punished, sometimes physically, for poor performance. Final judgment will be for law enforcement and the courts to determine.
Finally, who are behind the scam companies? Who owns the properties housing the scam complexes in Dara Sakor?
Below is an organization chart from Chinese company registries. GASO will keep investigating. See also https://thepeoplesmap.net/project/cambodia-china-comprehensive-investment-and-development-pilot-zone-dara-sakor-seashore-resort/