The Chinese casino city of Shwe Kokko is under construction in Myawaddy Township, Karen State in 2019. / The Irrawaddy
Over 300 Indians have been forced to work for cybercriminal operations after being trafficked to Myawaddy in Karen State, according to a report in the Times of India (TOI).
After being lured with false promises of legitimate jobs, and then taken captive by trafficking gangs, victims are forced to work for cyber-scam operations for more than 15 hours a day, the news outlet reported, citing an SOS video sent by one of the Indian victims.
Myawaddy, on the Thai border, is under the control of the Myanmar military and its affiliated Karen State Border Guard Force (BGF).
The area has become a people-trafficking hub after Chinese businessmen flocked there to set up gambling ventures including casinos, along with cybercrime activities, at a US$15-billion “new city” project opened in Shwe Kokko near Myawaddy in 2017. The project is a joint venture between the BGF and a Hong Kong-registered company, Yatai International Holding Group (IHG).
Since then, many Myanmar people along with citizens of Thailand, China, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos have reportedly been trafficked to work in illegal businesses there, while being held captive.
The TOI reported that some of those who trafficked Indians to Myawaddy are Malaysian-Chinese. The victims were beaten and attacked with tasers when they refused to perform illegal tasks, the media reported.
A 60-year-old fisherman from Karaikalmedu in southern India appealed on Monday to local authorities to rescue his son, who is among the Indian captives in Myawaddy.
The victim, who was previously working as a data entry operator in Dubai, was trafficked and forced to work at a cybercrime center in Myawaddy after his manager promised him work at IT companies in Thailand, the TOI said, quoting family members.
Leaders of Indian political parties have urged the Indian central government and local governments in the captives’ home towns to rescue them from Myanmar.
A youth from Yangon who escaped from a cyber racket in Myawaddy told The Irrawaddy last year they were forced to make money for the cyber racket owner by deceiving people from other countries using online and social media tools or posing as employees of microfinance companies.
People from Thailand, China, Brazil, the UK and India were targeted by the scams, he said.
Some women trafficking victims were forced to engage in paid sex chat with the targets, according to those who escaped from the centers.
They said victims were allowed to leave only when they had “compensated” their employers a certain amount of money by working it off.
In August, controversial Chinse businessman She Zhijiang, the chairman of IHG, was arrested by Thai police in Bangkok as he was the subject of an international arrest warrant for allegedly running illegal online casinos.
The 40-year-old had been on the run from Chinese authorities since 2012. He has had controversial mega projects and gaming ventures in Cambodia and at Shwe Kokko, as well as a lottery venture in the Philippines.
The Shwe Kokko new city project was halted and investigated by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government in 2019 due to a lack of transparency, land confiscations, confusion over the scale of construction and the growing influx of Chinese money as well as suspected illicit activities including casino businesses.
However, Yatai IHG’s management continued its gambling operations in the new city, which is currently only partially finished.