Officials in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province say they are undertaking preparations to release 47 Malaysians who were detained on suspicion of running an illegal gambling operation there.
Provincial Director Um Siphan confirmed that the group of 37 men and 10 women would be released soon, but could not specify an exact date.
“I don’t have details but they won’t be detained for a long time,” he said in an interview with the Khmer Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
“They were very cooperative with us in jail and managing them was fairly easy,” said Um Siphan.
The move to release the group was panned by an official from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
“If we allow them to be released, it means that Cambodia doesn’t implement its own laws. It will affect our laws,” said Sum Chankea, coordinator of the NGO’s office in the province.
He said that releasing the Malaysians would reflect a double standard in the application of Cambodian laws, and that legal measures should be taken against foreigners who break them.
He added that many illegal online gambling businesses in Banteay Meanchey were run by Thai, Chinese, and Malaysians, and that police have so far only arrested a few suspects.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday issued a press release on the case that suggested that many of the 47 could have been victims themselves.
“Officers from the Embassy of Malaysia in Phnom Penh made a consular visit to the detainees to ensure their wellbeing after receiving detailed information and approval from the local authorities,” the ministry said in the release.
“The visit revealed that most of the detainees were offered jobs with an attractive pay,” it said.
The embassy officers then met with prison officials and the judge, and finally sent a diplomatic note requesting their release to Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The release said that the embassy was “closely monitoring the case and [was] prepared to render the necessary consular assistance accordingly.”