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Chinese man being held by telecom fraud gang

By Cui Jia | China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-21 09:06

The public has been closely following the case of a well-educated young Chinese man who authorities said was persuaded to work for telecom fraud gangs in a Southeast Asian country.

Efforts to rescue the man, identified as Zhang Shi in media reports, are underway.

His girlfriend, surnamed Yang, told the media that he is believed to be in Myawaddy township, Myanmar, where many telecom fraud gangs are based. Like many who end up taking part in such schemes, he was lured by the promise of a significant income by gang members.

While working as a researcher for the Chinese Academy of Sciences at a botanical park in Jiangxi province last year, Zhang, 34, told Yang that an agency had offered him a high-paying job in Southeast Asia as a translator, and he could use the money to pay off his debts and marry her.

He traveled to Bangkok and was then taken to the border between Thailand and Myanmar. On Aug 16 last year, he crossed the Myanmar border and arrived in Myawaddy.

Shortly after, Yang said she received a message from Zhang saying that he didn't want to go to Myanmar because it wasn't safe there, but he had no choice because the gang had already taken away his freedom.

His cellphone was soon confiscated, so Yang was only able to reach him by contacting a middleman. Zhang told her his job was to chat with foreigners under false pretenses to defraud them of their money at an industrial park, and he had signed a one-year contract.

He said he couldn't leave the industrial park because there were armed guards watching, but that he would be able to call her almost every week, Yang said.

His family began to worry when Zhang got in touch with his sister at the end of May and asked her for 120,000 yuan ($16,480) to pay as a ransom because his job performance had been unsatisfactory. He said he had to work 18 hours a day under surveillance and there was no chance of him meeting his targets, so he hoped his family could pay the money to help set him free, his sister said.

Zhang's sister then contacted the police in their home city, who said they would look into the case and suggested that they not pay the ransom.

The police then informed the Chinese embassy in Myanmar and it later issued a travel warning for Chinese citizens who want to visit the country.

Zhang's family ultimately decided to pay the ransom, but the payment failed to go through, and their contact with him was reduced. Yang seemed confident that he would return, and is more worried about how he will be after such a traumatic experience after he returns.

Last week, law enforcement agencies from China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos began a joint effort to combat gambling and fraud syndicates, marking a significant step in curbing such cross-border criminal activities.

The effort, which kicked off after a meeting held on Tuesday and Wednesday, involved the Ministry of Public Security of China, Thai and Myanmar police, and the Laotian Ministry of Public Security.

Focusing on eradicating gambling, fraud and related crimes such as human trafficking, kidnapping and illegal detention, the operation is centered in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The four countries decided to establish a specialized coordination center in the city in a move that emphasized enhanced cooperation, proactive measures and a professional approach.

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