2022-03-01 15:01:17

Cambodian police investigating the high-profile accusations made by Li Yayuanlun — a 31-year-old Chinese national who last month claimed he was kidnapped into a telecom fraud scheme and repeatedly forced to give blood by his captors — have concluded Li’s story was a “fabrication,” according to an official summary of their investigation published Monday.

According to the report, Li entered Cambodia illegally before an illness led him to seek help from a local social organization. In addition to Li, Cambodian police also say they have identified and detained three other individuals who had aided Li in fabricating his story about being used as a “blood slave” as a way to cover up his illegal entry into the country. 

Li’s allegations received widespread attention last month when Chinese media reported he had been kidnapped, smuggled into the Cambodian city of Sihanoukville, and forced to give blood after responding to a job advertisement on 58.com, a popular Chinese online recruitment platform.

After the news broke, 58.com told Sixth Tone in statement that an internal investigation had failed to find a recruitment notice like the one Li described.

Although the official Cambodian police statement did not give the names of the three individuals accused of helping Li, the China-Cambodia Volunteer Team said Saturday that Chen Baorong, a member of the team and a Chinese businessman based in Cambodia, has been detained by Cambodian police. Last month, Chen told Sixth Tone that Li had reached out for help after his alleged escape from confinement. Chen said the China-Cambodia Volunteer Team sent Li to the Bethune China Cambodia First Hospital in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on February 11.

When reached for comment Monday, Zhu Minxue, dean of the Bethune China Cambodia First Hospital, confirmed that Li had been “lacking in blood” when he was admitted on February 11 and said that he is still undergoing treatment. He declined to comment further.

Chen’s detention came as a surprise to many in Cambodia’s Chinese community, where his work is well known. A Chinese national in Cambodia told Sixth Tone that “Captain Chen” had helped him escape from a telecom fraud scheme based in the city of Sihanoukville.

The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said that he had been tricked into entering Cambodia illegally in 2020. “I think there’ll be a lot of victims asking for help from Captain Chen, but they won’t be able to get in touch with him now that he is detained,” he said.

Chen An, a senior manager at a Chinese business association in Cambodia that sponsors the China-Cambodia Volunteer Team, told Sixth Tone that his organization is trying to post bail for Chen Baorong, but that he does not know the full extent of the allegations.

In the meantime, Chen An’s business association is also coming under increased scrutiny from Chinese media. Beijing-based financial outlet Caijing reported Monday that Chen’s business group was started by Yu Lingxiong, a China-born Cambodian national suspected of involvement in multiple pyramid schemes in China.

In recent years, the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville has become a hub for transnational criminal organizations and online casinos, including many with ties to China. Beth Chen, a cultural researcher who studies Cambodia’s informal economy, told Sixth Tone that the casino industry was hard hit by a Cambodian crackdown beginning in 2019. Although some casino operators moved to other countries, including Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates, others remained in Sihanoukville and engaged in other activities, including human trafficking and fraud.

An operator at the Chinese consulate in Sihanoukville said Monday he was not familiar with the details of the case and referred Sixth Tone to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

As of publication, the embassy had not responded to repeated phone calls for comment. But in an update on Li’s case posted to its official website Monday, the embassy called on Chinese citizens in the country to “respect the laws of China and Cambodia, defend their rights in a rational manner, and abstain from inventing rumors or deceiving the public.”

Editor: Kilian O’Donnell.

(Header image: The Chinese man who alleged he had been used as a “blood slave” recevies treatment at a Cambodian hospital, Februray 2022. From @北京晚报 on Weibo)