Police in Manila said Wednesday they had identified a Chinese casino worker’s husband among persons of interest in her kidnapping, which was caught on a video that has gone viral online amid a reported uptick in abductions of Chinese nationals in the Philippines.
The victim, Zhou Mei, a 28-year-old manager employed by a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO), was seen being forced into a van in the Makati financial district on Monday, police said.
She was with two males described as Chinese who herded her into the vehicle, according to Maj. Gideon Ines Jr., the head of the Makati police’s investigations unit.
Authorities have identified Mei’s husband, Chen Tangbin, whom they had interviewed earlier, and another man, Zhu Jianwei, as persons of interest. Both men are Chinese nationals.
Investigators are looking into a possible tussle over a deed of sale between the couple and another Chinese man as a possible motive for Mei’s abduction.
“We heard a lot of lies from the husband. There were inconsistencies with what he said transpired, that’s why he became a person of interest. This includes his friend [Zhu] who could have been inside that van,” Ines said, referring to an initial interview with Chen Tangbin.
The husband was asked to report for another interview with police on Wednesday, but he did not respond to their messages summoning him to the station, CNN Philippines quoted Ines as saying.
With an increase of crimes involving Chinese nationals, Abigail Binay, the mayor of Makati, ordered the suspension of the issuance of permits for POGO operators.
“I have ordered greater police visibility to ensure the safety and protection of all Makatizens, including foreign nationals who work and conduct business in the city,” Binay said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I have directed the Makati police chief to stay on top of the follow-up operations and give immediate updates. All leads are being pursued to immediately identify the suspects, locate their whereabouts and apprehend them, and safely rescue the victim,” Binay added.
According to the Philippine news website Rappler, the number of abductions of Chinese nationals in the Philippines has jumped this year. Fifty-eight Chinese have been abducted in 2019 compared with 34 in 2018, Rappler reported, citing statistics from the national police’s Anti-Kidnapping Group.
Based on records from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Department of Labor and Employment, nearly 200,000 Chinese nationals work in the country. They are mostly employed by POGOs and other online casinos, which cater to Chinese nationals but are prohibited in China.
However, the influx of Chinese workers into the Philippines has been criticized by nationalist groups who complain that their presence is causing social problems, such as soaring rental rates for office and commercial properties.
Earlier this year, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana even suggested that casinos known to employ Chinese citizens could be used as a cover by Beijing to spy on Philippine military and security installations located near the gaming businesses.