China has entered into a new agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to jointly address transnational organized crime linked to the gambling industry in the region. This collaboration will also involve the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
ASEAN comprises 10 regional states, including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
In recent years, the operation of casinos and scams by organized crime groups has seen significant growth, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. These groups have taken advantage of favorable infrastructure created by special economic zones (SEZs) and have exploited high unemployment rates to traffic individuals to work for them.
These criminal enterprises have been implicated in various activities, including money laundering, drug distribution, wildlife trafficking, and child prostitution, in addition to human trafficking. The agreement emphasizes the trafficking of thousands of individuals from across Asia and globally to work in casinos and other illegal compounds, often lured by the promise of lucrative employment opportunities. It also highlights related crimes such as digital technology fraud, extortion, money laundering, and corruption that pose challenges for authorities in the region, impacting governance and stability in some areas.
Among the directives outlined in the agreement is the encouragement of parallel or joint investigations into cross-border transnational crime cases. It also aims to enhance the identification of potential trafficking victims and strengthen mechanisms for their protection, assistance, and repatriation to their home countries.
The signatories commit to revising and strengthening legislative and regulatory frameworks governing the licensing and operation of entertainment industries, including casinos, gaming, and online betting. They also pledge to establish processes for vetting casino investors, online platforms, junket operations, and special economic zones for potential links to organized crime.
One of the most notorious casino-led criminal enclaves in the region is the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos, operated as a personal fiefdom by Zhao Wei, the head of the Kings Romans Casino Group. Zhao has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for involvement in illicit activities. Reports have described prison-like conditions within the SEZ, where individuals seeking employment are often lured under false pretenses. Many women expecting to work as "chat girls" selling casino shares to wealthy patrons have been forced into prostitution.
The agreement underscores the need for a targeted, comprehensive, coordinated, and regional approach to combat transnational organized crime and trafficking associated with casinos and scams, highlighting the necessity for collective action by multiple states.
By fLEXI tEAM