In a significant stride toward regional security, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, along with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), have unveiled a comprehensive plan to tackle transnational organized crime and trafficking associated with casinos and scam operations in Southeast Asia. The initiative, titled the “Regional Cooperation Roadmap to Address Transnational Organized Crime and Trafficking in Persons Associated with Casinos and Scam Operations in Southeast Asia,” was revealed in Bangkok, Thailand.
The roadmap outlines 30 specific actions that the signatory parties have agreed upon to curb criminal activities related to gambling. One of the primary objectives is to revise and strengthen legislative and regulatory frameworks governing licensing, operations, and entertainment industries, including casinos, gaming, and online betting, that are at risk of being exploited for transnational organized crime, including cybercrime. The plan also emphasizes the need to establish mechanisms to review profiles of investors in casinos, both physical and online, as well as junket operations and special economic zones, to identify potential associations with organized crime and ascertain beneficial ownership.
A crucial aspect of the initiative is improving financial and technological literacy, particularly among communities vulnerable to criminal groups associated with casinos and scam operations. By enhancing awareness and understanding, authorities aim to empower these communities against falling victim to fraudulent activities.
The roadmap acknowledges the alarming rise of casino and scam operations conducted by transnational organized crime groups in Southeast Asia. These criminals have exploited existing casino and special economic zone infrastructure, as well as unemployment rates in the region, to establish intricate online scam operations that defraud people globally. Furthermore, these criminal networks utilize trafficked victims to carry out various criminal acts, exacerbating the issue.
Addressing these complex challenges demands a coordinated regional approach. Transnational organized crime and trafficking in persons associated with casinos and scams cannot be efficiently tackled by individual states alone. The collaboration between ASEAN, China, and the UNODC is seen as a vital step toward combating these integrated and interconnected crimes.
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Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative to Southeast Asia and the Pacific, highlighted the urgency of the situation, particularly in the Mekong region. He emphasized the need for regional cooperation to address these crimes and the broader ecosystem they thrive in, underlining the necessity of a collective effort to curb these activities.
China has been actively engaging in bilateral agreements with Southeast Asian nations to enhance cooperation in combating cross-border illegal activities related to gambling. The recent memorandum of understanding signed between China’s Minister of Public Security and his Vietnamese counterpart further underscores the commitment of nations to work together in curbing these criminal enterprises. The collaborative initiatives reflect the shared determination of ASEAN, China, and partner nations to create a safer environment, free from the detrimental impacts of illegal gambling activities.