The litany of new casinos popping up in Sihanoukville are in the crosshairs of anti-narcotic investigators amid allegations they are being used to launder millions of dollars linked to Southeast Asia’s booming methamphetamine trade.
Nikkei Asian Review is reporting that criminal networks have been taking advantage of Cambodia’s “porous” borders and use of US dollars to transport large sums of cash which is then cleaned using operations such as Sihanoukville’s expanding casino presence.
“The casinos in Sihanoukville are now worth looking into, as you have currency exchanges in all of them, and there are currency wire services just next to the gambling tables,” Nikkei quoted one international investigator as saying. “All the punters are Chinese and they gamble with thick stacks of 100 dollar bills.”
According to another source described as a Western diplomat, “Suitcases full of cash are brought across the Thai-Cambodian and Vietnam-Cambodian borders regularly, and exchanging them for dollars does not raise eyebrows. The unregulated casinos are ideal venues to launder this cash.”
Nikkei notes that international AML watchdog, The Financial Action Task Force, placed Cambodia on its gray list earlier this year due to concerns over the incredible explosion in new casino developments across the country, and particularly in Sihanoukville.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has estimated that almost 150 of the 234 casinos across Southeast Asia are based in Cambodia, while IAG reported earlier this year that 13 new casino licenses had been issued by Cambodia’s Ministry of Finance in the first four months of 2019 alone, lifting the number of licenses nation-wide to a new high of 163. More than half of those, 91, are located in Sihanoukville.
“Methamphetamine trafficking is the most lucrative business for transnational organized crime groups in the region,” the UNODC said recently. “The illicit proceeds are laundered through various channels, in particular the growing network of casinos in the region.”