ASEAN and China Sign Agreement to Combat Gambling-Related Transnational Crime

Director General of the Ministry of Public Security of Laos, Lathsamee Xayyakham, discusses the situation in border areas, the willingness to cooperate on joint operations, and the need for capacity building. (Photo: UNODC)

Six ASEAN member countries—Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia—and China announced a plan of action on Tuesday to work together to combat gambling-related transnational crime in the region, with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Organized crime groups have turned to casino and scam operations in recent years, especially in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, taking advantage of special economic zones (SEZs) that offer favorable infrastructure for these groups to traffic victims from other countries and hold them hostage, according to the United Nations.

Apart from being accused of human trafficking, these groups have also been held responsible for running advanced online scams, participating in money laundering, smuggling drugs, trafficking wildlife, and child prostitution.

The agreement states that thousands of people from across Asia and around the globe, lured by the prospect of lucrative employment opportunities, are being trafficked to work in casinos and other scam compounds in Southeast Asia.

“Human trafficking though is one just form of transnational organized crime linked to these operations – it is intertwined with fraud, extortion, money laundering, and corruption, with technology underpinning many elements of the crimes. Associated illicit financial flows have grown to the point that they are impacting governance and the stability of some parts of the region,” it says.

To combat transnational crime, the new directives aim to promote parallel or joint investigations of cross-border transnational crime cases, increase the identification of potential trafficking victims, and strengthen mechanisms to protect, assist, and repatriate victims of forced criminality to their home countries.

The countries that signed the plan will also “revise and strengthen legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern the licensing, operations, and provision of entertainment industries such as casinos, gaming, and online betting.”

Additionally, the countries vowed to create systems for checking the backgrounds of casino investors, including online platforms and junket operations in special economic zones for ties to organized crime.

Recently the Lao police handed over 164 online fraud suspects to the Chinese police in Vientiane Capital. These suspects were accused of defrauding Chinese citizens using cross-border telecommunications systems.

To effectively tackle the issue, the agreement states that a targeted, comprehensive, coordinated, and regional approach is required, as transnational organized crime and trafficking in persons associated with casinos and scams are too complex for any one country to address alone.