Malaysian police arrested 100 Chinese nationals suspected of involvement in an illegal online gaming syndicate that targeted gamblers from China, officials said Wednesday, as countries across Southeast Asia crack down on unlicensed gaming operations.
Police said they arrested all of the Chinese suspects along with a Malaysian suspect during simultaneous raids on four bungalows in a posh neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday morning. The 101 in custody, who range from 19 to 65 years old, were also suspected of belonging to an unlicensed stock investment syndicate, authorities said.
“All of those detained were foreign nationals while the victims were from China,” Mohamad Hedzir Hussin, assistant director of the Malaysian federal police’s Secret Societies, Gambling and Vice Division, told reporters at the location.
“From the four premises, police seized 66 laptops, 23 personal computers, 555 mobile phones, 11 modems and eight routers,” he said.
Police had monitored alleged members of the syndicate for a month before launching Wednesday’s raids at the bungalows, rental properties believed to have housed servers for the online gambling website. The operation, which included public lotteries, may have netted up to 72,000 ringgit (U.S. $17,244) a day in profits for the syndicate, authorities said.
“The syndicate targets victims in China and all transactions, payments are made through WeChat Pay as well as banks there. The number of victims is estimated to be over 1,000 people,” Hedzir said.
All of the suspects are being held and investigated under Malaysia’s Common Gaming Houses Act as well as under the Immigration Act for staying in the country without proper travel papers, officials said. Among potential punishments, the suspects could face six months to five years in prison.
Tightly controlled premises
The Chinese citizens working for the syndicate had their movements confined to the bungalows where the raids took place, according to a preliminary police investigation, Hedzir said.
“They were prohibited from leaving or entering the other units. Food and beverages were believed to be managed by the syndicate …,” he said.
According to Mohamad Rahim Kamaludin, an academic and criminologist at the National University of Malaysia, the international syndicate employing Chinese made Malaysia a base of operations because of easy access to the Southeast Asian country.
“The three-month visitation [visa] is often misused. The syndicate is a large network whose members constantly change,” he told BenarNews. “So, they have nothing to fear.”
Wednesday’s arrests were the latest in Malaysia involving suspected Chinese members of an international gambling syndicate. More than 100 other Chinese nationals were arrested early this year in connection with similar illegal operations.
Predominantly Muslim Malaysia and other countries in the region have strict laws regulating gambling.
In recent months, authorities in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have moved in to arrest hundreds of Chinese nationals suspected of involvement in unlicensed online gambling operations.
China, which has banned online gambling, urged the Philippines on Wednesday to ban all gaming on the internet as part of Beijing's efforts to crack down on money laundering and other criminal activities, which, it alleges, are associated with the industry.
Regulated casinos in the Manila area and elsewhere in the Philippines cater to large numbers of customers who fly in from China to gamble.