Earlier this week, officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with China in its quality of a partner country, unveiled a plan of action to tackle gambling-associated criminal activity in the region. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported the agreement.
The plan mentioned above, called “Regional Cooperation Roadmap to Address Transnational Organized Crime and Trafficking in Persons Associated with Casinos and Scam Operations in Southeast Asia”, was presented in Thailand. It features 30 specific actions agreed upon among the partners who signed the deal that are aimed at addressing transnational organized crime and trafficking in individuals linked to casino gambling and scam operations.
Some of the measures that have been announced as part of the plan, include the revision and enhancement of regulatory and legislative frameworks that govern the process of licensing, operations, and provision of various entertainment industries, including gaming, casinos, and online betting. Other technologies and establishments that are considered at risk of being used to help transnational criminal organizations, such as cybercrime, are also targeted by the ASEAN agreement.
As part of the aforementioned agreement, it is proposed that the countries in the Southeast Asian region and China set up mechanisms to review casino investors’ profiles, including profiles of people who invest in junket operations and online platforms, and special economic zones. Furthermore, the measures would have to determine whether there are any associations with organized crime have been established and also determine beneficial ownership.
Scams and Casino Operations Linked to Organized Crime Become Serious Issue in Southeast Asia and the Pacific
The “Regional Cooperation Roadmap” recommends that the parties who signed the agreement should make further investments in improving technological and financial literacy, especially in communities most likely to be targeted by criminal groups linked to scam operations and casino gambling.
Such operations are currently recognized as a significant and growing problem in the Southeast Asian region because they have managed to set up extremely fine-tuned online scam operations aimed at defrauding people all over the world and have used victims of human trafficking for performing various crimes. As explained by Jeremy Douglas, the representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific region, trafficking in persons associated with scams and casinos operated by criminal organizations has proliferated there, especially in the Mekong region.
So far, major organized crime groups have managed to establish quite substantial criminal operations in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and other countries in the area, and have been taking advantage of the special economic zone infrastructure and unemployment, along with the already existing casino operations there. As acknowledged by the plan, by its nature, transnational organised crime and human trafficking linked to scams and casinos cannot be addressed in an efficient manner by each of the countries in the region on their own. A more coordinated, comprehensive, targeted, and regional approach was needed to deal with the issue.
The last few years have seen China establish a number of bilateral agreements with nations in Southeast Asia aimed at boosting cooperation in fighting cross-border illegal activities associated with gambling. Earlier in September, the Chinese Minister of Public Security – Wang Xiaohong – and his Vietnamese counterpart – General To Lam – signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation in combatting unlawful cross-border gambling services.