Golden Triangle SEZ Under Scrutiny as Western Sanctions Target ‘Scam Farms’

Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone Under Scrutiny: Western Sanctions Target Prominent Figures in Scam Farm Operations
Kings Romans Casino is the centre point for the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.(Photo: Reuters/Jorge Silva)

As scam centers continue to pose a threat to Southeast Asia, western countries are taking a stronger stance to mitigate the dangers.

The United Kingdom (UK), United States, and Canada have imposed coordinated sanctions targeting nine individuals and five entities for their involvement in human trafficking, forcing victims to work in ‘scam farms’ in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia.

According to a statement from the UK government on 8 December, victims are promised well-paid jobs but are subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. 

Included in the list of sanctions is Zhao Wei, a Chinese businessman and the founder of the Hong Kong registered company Kings Romans Group, which runs a well-known casino in northern Laos. In 2007, Zhao negotiated and struck a 99-year lease with the Lao government to establish and operate the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo Province.

Other sanctions were issued against Saw Chit Thu, leader of the Myanmar junta-affiliated Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) which controls the Shwe Kokko area in the Kayin State of south-east Myanmar. 

She Zhijiang and Colonel Saw Min Min Oo, head of the Hong Kong-registered Yatai International Holding Group and managing director of Karen BGF’s Chit Lin Myaing Co., were also included in the list.

“We will not tolerate criminals and repressive regimes trampling on the fundamental rights and freedoms of ordinary people around the world,” UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in the press statement.

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commission estimates that Southeast Asian scam centers generate revenues amounting to billions of USD a year.

While the international community continues to exert pressure in an effort to clamp down on the ongoing threat, the Malaysia International Humanitarian Organization (MHO) has warned that scam syndicates located in Myanmar may shift towards Laos.

“We believe that due to the lack of stability in the region, scam syndicates were moving to neighboring countries, including Laos,” rescue coordinator Azirul Syafiq Sazali said during a press conference run by the MHO on 7 December, shortly after three Malaysians were rescued from a scam center in Myanmar.

Through international efforts, fraudulent centers have become a focal point in the ongoing challenges faced by developing countries in Southeast Asia. This increased scrutiny has prompted authorities in Laos and China to take decisive action against these centers.