Cambodian town lures Chinese criminals in casino boom likely linked to Sarawak billionaire, says report

A gambling boom has been blamed for the rise in criminal activities in a Cambodian town. (Al Jazeera pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Investments by a Chinese casino giant with links to a Sarawak billionaire tycoon have transformed a sleepy Cambodian town into a hub for crime, exploitation and environmental destruction, a new investigative documentary by Al Jazeera has revealed.

The news channel’s 101 East programme, in its latest episode documenting the casino boom in Cambodia, focuses on the development of Sihanoukville as a gambling hub where casino complexes have been built “at break-neck speed”.

“The pace of construction is unbelievable,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Adrian Brown. “But we quickly discovered not all is as it seems when you go beyond they city’s bright lights and soaring skyscrapers.”

FMT is attempting to get a reaction from a Malaysian tycoon who has heavily invested in the casino industry in Cambodia.

The episode will be aired tomorrow at 6.30am on Al Jazeera.

Despite promising to create jobs for locals, the casino boom has brought along with it everything that the gambling business is usually connected with: crime, exploitation and money laundering.

The report said Chinese cartels with a history of violent crimes are among those attracted to the town, where some 100 casinos are planned, most of which already operating.

It added that the criminals are lured by the chance to make fast money in the town that is steadily evolving into the “Las Vegas of the East”.

“There are many who get rich overnight, so that attracts many Chinese investors here,” the report quoted a Chinese businessman as saying.

Last year, police busted Chinese nationals at Cambodian airports bearing suitcases stuffed with cash, the report said.

Among locals, resentment is growing despite the better wages as the boom also means soaring property prices.

“People here don’t really like it,” said a tuk-tuk driver who has been forced to sleep in his vehicle as he can no longer afford to rent a place.

“Our society has changed. Everywhere you look there are casinos. I am not happy.”