Authorities in Cambodia have arrested nine Chinese nationals for the alleged kidnap and torture of two gamblers in Sihanoukville, a once sleepy seaside town now booming with Chinese-owned casinos.

Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville in western Cambodia has become a Chinese gambling hub over the past two years, fueled by lax regulation and billions of dollars of Chinese investment. Chinese organized crime is also thriving in the city. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Major Sok Kosal of the Sihanouk Province Military Police said the men were loan sharks, according to the Khmer Times.

“They’re part of a Chinese gang who provided loans to gamblers at a casino in Sihanoukville,” said Kosal. “The suspects held two of their countrymen — who owed money due to gambling — and tortured them in order to get the money back from the victims’ families.”

Kosal said the men were arrested after the gang’s rented house in the south of the city was raided by military police officers. Handcuffs, a gun, and two electric batons were retrieved from the building. The victims had been held captive for five days, he added.

Deputy commander of the provincial military police Lieutenant Colonel Cheng Vuthy said the nine suspects are accused of unlawful confinement, cruelty and unauthorized use of a weapon. Each face five years in prison.

The victims were taken to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

Wild East Boom Town

The growth of Sihanoukville over just the last two years — fueled by billions of dollars of Chinese investment — has overwhelmed locals, who are prohibited by law from entering the casinos that are suddenly everywhere in their city.

According to a report by The Guardian, there will be 70 casinos in Sihanoukville by the end of this year. The new gambling venues have brought an influx of Chinese tourists and high-rolling gamblers, while thousands Chinese have arrived to work within the casinos.

It’s estimated that around 20 percent of the city’s population is now Chinese, a segment that has little interaction with the natives.

Triads Descend

There has been a tightening of regulatory controls on the junket industry of Macau in recent years in a bid to drive out organized crime, but Sihanoukville is developing faster than local authorities can draw up regulations, and the country’s authoritarian government is largely just happy to see the money roll in.

Non-existent regulations and lax money-laundering controls are a boon for Chinese gambling operators, but also for organized crime, which has found a new route into the junket industry after being driven out of Macau. This is fueling a rise in the kidnappings of gamblers who can’t pay their debts.

Earlier this year, provincial governor Lt. Gen. Yun Mi complained that the crime rate in Sihanoukville was soaring because of “Chinese mafia [who] disguise themselves to commit various crimes and kidnap Chinese investors … causing insecurity in the province.”