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95 arrested in Myanmar scam operation raids

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar police arrested 95 people during raids this week on an online scam operation in the commercial hub of Yangon, authorities said.

The country has been in chaos since a military coup in February 2021, with criminal syndicates taking advantage of the lawlessness to run scam centres, particularly in border regions.

Authorities arrested a total of 95 people at three addresses in Yangon on Thursday – most of them Burmese, though some were from unspecified foreign countries.

Police seized a BMW car, laptops, phones, desktop computers and other equipment in the raids, according to a Myanmar junta statement released late on Friday.

“On the computers was data from people outside the country, used for scamming money online,” the statement said.

Officers also raided the home of the suspected ringleader of the operation, but he remains at large, it added.

Vehicles make their way around Sule pagoda in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. PHOTO: AP

The raids mark the first time the Myanmar junta has announced mass arrests for scams in Yangon.

Previous arrests had centred on the northern border with China.

Myanmar is under pressure from key ally Beijing to root out the scam centres, which often target Chinese citizens.

Criminal gangs are said to have lured, kidnapped or coerced thousands of Chinese nationals and locals into forced labour in online scam operations based in Southeast Asia.

The scammers typically groom their victims for weeks before convincing them to hand over money for fake investments and other ruses, analysts say.

People trafficking connected to casinos and scam operations run by organised crime “has mushroomed across Southeast Asia, particularly in the Mekong”, and profits are at unprecedented levels, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The scam industry is earning criminal groups the equivalent of billions of dollars, with profits rivalling the gross domestic product of some countries in the region, the agency said in a report in September.

Victims have reported travelling to Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos on false promises of romance or jobs only to be detained and forced to scam people.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said 219 Thai nationals had been lured into Myanmar scam and people trafficking networks in northern Shan state.

So far authorities had rescued 153 Thais, spokeswoman Kanchana Patarachoke said on Friday.

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