Phnom Penh’s real-life private eye





Phnom Penh night: “down these mean streets” (photo by artist Chris Coles)

Yes folks, there’s a real-life private investigator in Phnom Penh. The name is Phnom Penh Investigations, they have an office on street 110, and their Facebook page is fascinating (:

Case #1: scam

Client: A well-respected Cambodian businesswoman had been contacted by a (presumed) previous business associate from the USA via Facebook requesting assistance in opening a Cambodia-based business with an initial investment of $480,000. However, the “American” reported difficulty in wiring the initial investment to her due to “new American banking regulations” and requested to send the client cash instead via DHL.

Investigation Results: Posing as the client, attempts to correspond with the “American” by phone and/or Skype video conferencing were rebuffed.

Subsequently, the “American” claimed that DHL “rejected the shipment” and requested a $2,000 payment from the client to cover DHL’s reported “customs duties” in order to ship the $480,000 cash payment.

The client was advised that it was an obvious “419 scam” and to cease all communications with him/them.

Further investigation revealed that the fraud perpetrators had stolen photos from the actual American business associate’s Facebook page in order to pose as him in an attempt to fool the client. The actual American business associate had no knowledge of this until we contacted him directly by phone.

Case #2: embezzlement

Client: A group of Singaporean clients suspected the NGO they had donated money to in order to build a rural school had embezzled their donations entirely with zero construction nor any charitable distribution of funds.

Investigative Results: The fraudulent NGO in question had indeed embezzled the entirety of the funds donated and the various NGO “directors” listed on their websites/Facebook pages and in email correspondence, etc. were in fact aliases. The “NGO” fraud network had also falsely used the identities of other legitimate Khmer business/charity leaders to perpetuate the scam to foreign donors.

Case #3: international fraud

Client: American national had been defrauded by an “international freight/shipping company” operating out of Central Asia but with associates working in Cambodia.

Investigative Results: Our investigation revealed the fraudulent “shipping company” would steal (high value) packages and reroute them to Cambodia. Associates in Cambodia would then “ransom” the packages by requiring the owners to send Western Union payments to Phnom Penh. The sophisticated criminal network would also provide access to forged online tracking pages and forged Cambodian Ministry of Economy & Finance invoices to elicit fraudulent “customs duties” from unsuspecting clients. Further investigation revealed the criminal network involved an African national and several Khmer and Chinese nationals living/working in Phnom Penh.

The fraud investigation was then turned over to the Cambodian Ministry of Interior due to the network’s use of forged Cambodian government invoices, fraudulent Cambodian VAT numbers, and fraudulent Cambodian business registrations.

Case #4: suspicious death

Client: A foreign client’s brother had been pronounced dead shortly after arriving to a Phnom Penh hospital of a suspected drug overdose. The family believed foul play might have been involved and requested an investigation.

Investigative Results: Following an extensive witness canvassing, including responding police, emergency drug treatment center personnel, etc., all indications pointed to either a drug overdose or adverse drug reaction. Subsequent information from a previous Phnom Penh-based employer indicated the deceased had been terminated several weeks prior due to a drug problem. The family accepted the findings and terminated the investigation.

Cases #4,5,6, 7, 8 and 9: love. (“After conducting nearly 150 infidelity checks throughout Cambodia over the past three years, our investigations have revealed that over 80% of our clients’ spouses/girlfriends/sponsored parties have been unfaithful.” To which I add that a PI will inevitably get a very skewed set of clients.)

“I had suspicions about my husband during his business trips to Asia but I did not know what to do at first. Luckily I found your company during an internet search.

Your staff followed my husband and took photographs of him bringing Cambodian girls to his hotel both in the day time and at night!Thank you very much for your work and professionalism!

-Irina, soon-to-be divorced wife from the US”

Client: Malaysian client (living in Kuala Lumpur) whose Khmer wife was visiting family in Phnom Penh suspected her of drinking to excess and possibly meeting other men throughout the night.

Investigative Results: Surveillance revealed that the client’s Khmer wife was indeed becoming extremely intoxicated each night as she visited numerous bars and clubs in Phnom Penh. The client’s wife also departed the “Pontoon” club one night at closing and accompanied a foreign tourist to his hotel at 5am, presumably for a sexual encounter.

Client: French national had been “sponsoring” a supposed Khmer university student he met online and with whom he had corresponded via webcam for several months. Client had been sending monthly “support payments” to her via Western Union to assist her with her education.

Investigative Results: After finally locating the supposed Khmer “student” in Phnom Penh, investigation revealed that she had been collecting multiple monthly “support payments” via Western Union, presumably from other foreign sponsors she had met online. Further investigation revealed that the subject was not enrolled in the university she claimed and that she was unemployed and living with her parents. However, the subject was surveilled on multiple occasions drinking with her friends at nightclubs such as Nova, Pontoon, Heart of Darkness, etc.

Client: Khmer-American national working in the US wanted to investigate his future Khmer bride who was living with her family in Phnom Penh. The marriage had been suggested by the client’s parents, but the client was suspicious of the chosen bride due to her close working relationships with foreign nationals in Phnom Penh (as required by her work in the finance industry).

Investigative Results: After 200 investigative hours covering one full month of surveillance, our investigators witnessed no improper relationships involving the (future) Khmer bride. Virtually every evening after work was spent with her family or occasionally with Khmer (mostly female) friends in public places.

(“Special discounts are offered for investigations requiring significant investigative hours.”)

Client: Australian national had purchased a hostess bar (lease) in Phnom Penh for his Khmer fiancée, an ex-bargirl. Client had become worried after returning to Australia as his fiancée was no longer responding to his phone calls.

Investigative Results: Investigation revealed that within just days of the client’s return to Australia, his fiancée had already put their hostess bar for sale and was hoping to use the money earned from the sale to build a house in her home province. Further investigation revealed that the Khmer fiancée had, in fact, a Khmer boyfriend working as a tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh and that they planned on moving back to their home province immediately after they sold the (Australian) client’s hostess bar.

(I like this one – the cliche reversed)

Client: European national (female) suspected her Cambodian boyfriend of having a local wife and possibly other foreign mistresses.

Investigative Results: Surveillance revealed that the Cambodian boyfriend was indeed married to a Cambodian woman and had one child with her. Investigation also revealed the cheating Cambodian husband had at least two other foreign mistresses who were sending him money from abroad.

Case 10: recovery of stolen property.

Client: Canadian national tracked his stolen laptop to a user in Phnom Penh with the assistance of a computer app that provided remote photos of the user and network and location data.

(Please refer to…/six-security-apps-that-can-help-reco…for further information on this crucial computer security technology.)

Investigative Results: Our investigator located the current user of the stolen laptop and his current employment and discreetly approached his employer to negotiate a settlement (the user’s employer, a large multi-national firm with an office in Phnom Penh, was contacted as the user was conducting company business on the stolen laptop, as verified by the owner’s screenshots of usage).

The Khmer user of the stolen laptop claimed he purchased it from a local computer shop in Phnom Penh and apologized to the client, stating he never would have purchased the laptop if he had known that it was stolen.

They offer other services too – like personal bodyguards for example – this is what can happen to tourists who think they’re still in Kansas:

In a café in Phnom Penh earlier this year, a tourist encountered the wrong person on the wrong day. What began as a verbal exchange with another customer quickly escalated into a violent confrontation. The tourist says that in a fit of rage, his adversary, an affluent local man, stormed over to his bodyguard who was standing nearby. The bodyguard pulled out a handgun, passed it to his “boss” and stood by as he dished out a pistol whipping.

Source: Phnom Penh Investigations on Facebook



Police forensics in Cambodia?

Short answer: What police forensics?

Very important article in the Cambodia Daily, which I’m copying here without permission (sorry CD but this is worth preserving):

When two North Korean doctors dropped dead in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district in January, the stated cause of death raised eyebrows among many. Police ruled that the hard-partying duo died of simultaneous heart attacks brought on by alcohol consumption, despite their wives’ admission that they had injected the men with a homemade health serum in the hours before their deaths. The men’s wives wrote a letter to police requesting that no autopsy be performed, but according to many, they needn’t have bothered.

“In Cambodia, there is no equipment to do autopsies like in other countries,” said Norng Sovannaroth, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court doctor and the only physician qualified to perform autopsies in Cambodia.

Although he believed the suspicious nature of the North Koreans’ deaths warranted further examination, the power to seek an autopsy falls to the police, and it is a request they rarely make—including in this case, when the women’s stories were allowed to stand without question.

In interviews last month, Dr. Sovannaroth, the court doctor, outlined his frustrations with the shoddy state of forensic medicine in the country. “It’s because the Cambodian government doesn’t care much about autopsies. They just let [the] doctor see what happened and make a report; they never think about it,” he said.

The need to introduce standardized forensic medicine—a discipline that includes autopsies— was first discussed in 2001, when government, medical and legal officials gathered in the capital for the the country’s first-ever conference on the topic. The event ended in formal recommendations for the establishment of a coroner’s office and a university-based forensic medical program. But 15 years later, neither of these exists, and Cambodian police are still eyeballing most corpses to determine the cause of death, according to Dr. Sovannaroth.

Though police often refer to this external examination as an “autopsy,” a procedure of international standards involves opening a body at the front and removing organs one by one before carefully examining them, as well as methodically scrutinizing the outside of the body.

However, Dr. Sovannaroth— who performs autopsies at the Phnom Penh Referral Hospital— said his repeated requests for the practice to be given more funding had been rebuffed, and there was no autopsy training program at the University of Health Sciences.

“I am an autopsy doctor, but in every of meeting at the Health Ministry when I make requests about the need for technical autopsies, they always ignore me,” he said.

He added that he had requested basics such as better tools, DNA testing facilities and the addition to more hospitals of cool rooms needed for storing corpses, to no avail.

“In other Asian countries, the police take any evidence or bodies to do DNA testing…. When will Cambodia do it too?” he said.

Ly Sovann, a spokesman for the  Health Ministry, declined to comment on the issue, saying only that the Ministry of Health “is not responsible for this,” and directing all questions to the Interior Ministry’s technical and scientific department.

Moung Sothea, director of the department, conceded that facilities for forensic medicine were sorely lacking but said there were plans for improvement. “In the provinces…they don’t have enough equipment for autopsies on bodies,” he said. “But by the end of this year we will have full equipment for autopsies in the whole country,” he said. He admitted that autopsies were rarely requested without the intervention of NGOs.

“Our police do autopsies sometimes depending on what we see…but almost all are murders or rapes that involve NGOs—they always request for autopsy for more specifics.”

He said that equipment that can identify DNA, an important tool in many investigations into crimes such as rape and sexual assault, would be purchased “soon,” adding that the government currently relied on NGOs to pay to send blood and other samples overseas. “NGOs that work for protection of children have the budget to take the blood or masks found at the scene [of the crime] to Vietnam or Thailand to do DNA testing,” he said.

James McCabe, chief investigator for the Child Protection Unit, the investigation arm of the Cambodian Children’s Fund NGO, frequently employs the services of court doctor Mr. Sovannaroth.

“We will request an autopsy if we’re not certain [of] the causation of death,” he said, citing an example of an 8-year-old child who was killed by his stepmother in late 2014. “The stepmother had stomped on him. Obviously there were signs of bruising, but no obvious signs of how that child would have died,” he said.“Had we not done that autopsy, that stepmother would not have been charged,” he added.

While the CPU regularly requests autopsies and sends DNA samples collected at crime scenes to Vietnam for analysis if necessary, Mr. McCabe said there was room for improvement in how police were trained to collect such evidence. “The confession is only the start of an investigation…. You then have to corroborate that confession,” he said.

The ability to perform autopsies is crucial to a robust justice system, according to David Ranson, the head of forensic services at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Australia. “In most suspicious deaths the police will request that a full autopsy be performed and this request will usually be supported by similar advice from the forensic pathologist,” Dr. Ranson wrote in an email last month.

Still, determining a cause of death is just the first step, Dr. Ranson said.

“[M]ore commonly the issue is one of analysis of the fatal injury to determine question[s] such as: how much force was used, what type of weapon may have been used, how was that weapon wielded,” he said. “For example was the knife used in a stabbing pushed in and out of the body several times through the same wound, was the person lying down sitting or standing when they were stabbed or shot, was the person trying to defend themselves when they were fatally injured,” he continued.

The country’s lack of forensic medicine facilities are considered problematic enough that the British Embassy in Phnom Penh highlighted it in an information sheet at the beginning of this year warning families of U.K. citizens who die in Cambodia.

“You should be aware that the cause of death given on the death certificate is often given in very basic terms, and often does not reveal the underlying cause of why the death occurred,” it states, recommending that families use the services of the Phnom Penh-based coroner John Allison Monkhouse Repatriations.

Contacted last month, the head coroner of John Allison Monkhouse, who declined to give his name, said the only thing his company could do for those who desired a more thorough examination was to ship corpses abroad for a proper autopsy. “There are no forensic pathologists in Cambodia,” he said. “What we can do is send a body to Bangkok.”

Source: “Dearth of Forensics Makes Justice Evasive” – Taylor O’Connell and Sek Odom, Cambodia Daily, May 14, 2016.

Wayward Pines and the balcony highdive

Gated communities are very much like the cantonments that were set up on the outskirts of Indian cities during the days of the British Raj – a place for whites to live peacefully without being bothered by the natives. In Thailand these gated communities are called “Moobahns” and the people who live in them are called “Moobahnians”. The Thai word “moo bahn” means “village”. Which is ironic considering that the last thing a resident in the Wayward Pines Moobahn wants to see near his house is a Thai villager (unless the villager is cutting the lawn).

Moobahnians on facebook, like their British Raj antecedents, are not very bright to start with. In addition they tend to be very old, it is estimated that the average age of a facebook local community member is 86. They have very little knowledge of anything beyond their compound wall. On facebook these old fogies form tight knit groups that reinforce their own prejudices and imbecilic beliefs. A perfect petri dish for the senile dementia virus. Plus being old, and nearer to God, they think they need to do something to compensate for a pointless life of self indulgence. This, of course, makes them the ideal target for a Phishing attack.

Its easy enough, any boy can do it. In fact the average Chinese 12 year old (or an American 18 year old) has sufficient computer skills to pull off this scam. Just make a website clone of, say, the Chumphon Evening Gazette, (which normally carries banal features about local road closures and special offers at Tesco – stuff the old fogies love). There is even a software tool that will do this for you. Into the clone you insert an new element: somebody’s daughter/best friend/pet hamster has been robbed/injured/raped by natives, and is now in jail/hospital/the vets, please go to http://www.scamhosters/ Here the fogy will be asked to make a bank transfer to Connery Scamman to help pay medical bills/hire a lawyer/buy a ticket to fly the animal home.

To find out what happened next, go to Private Tye, a satirical Thai site that should become required reading for anyone contemplating living in Southeast Asia.


Sex and the single colonial

ConseilsHyginene.JPGIn 1923 Dr. C. Spire published a little booklet of thirty pages with advice for Frenchmen – planters, administrators, itinerant adventurers – bound for Indochina. The tropics, he told them, were no more dangerous to the health than Bordeaux or Marseilles (a revolutionary idea at the time). Good health required regular doses of quinine, a solar topee, some walking, riding and hunting, and strict avoidance of camping out in swamps and casual liaisons with the local women:

 Venereal diseases are extremely widespread in the colony. The young European, if he is unmarried, must therefore remain absolutely pure.

Dr Spire then faces up to reality:

But with the excitation and the irritation of the tropical climate, and the laxity of Annamite morals, it is quite difficult to ask him to remain continent for many years. I therefore continue to favour, in Africa as in Asia, the contraction of local marriage in the native fashion, a temporary union with a selected Annamite girl who is still, as much as possible, within her family. This has its inconveniences, I do not ignore the fact, but it remains the method that allows the greatest possible reduction in the risk of contagion.


Annamite morals, colonial fantasies: “The Siesta of a Young Favourite”

In the kiosk of a hotel in Ratanakiri I have seen, and deeply regret not buying, an antiquarian postcard showing a goggle-eyed Frenchman in a solar topee leering at a bare-breasted Cambodian damsel at her bath. Beneath was the legend: LES FEMMES! You see them everywhere, but take a grip on yourself, think of home and sweet Marianne to whom you would not wish to return with that which is unspeakable! (I made that bit up, but the general thrust, so to speak, is accurate: health was the concern, not morality or miscegenation).

Assuming that your young Frenchman did not stay pure, what did he do? In Saigon there was a modest red light district, but not in Phnom Penh – it was scarcely more than a village, with a population of 77 thousand in 1924 of whom around a thousand were French. There was no red light district. There was, however, sex:

Local residents served as intermediaries, bringing clients and women together in private homes. For those interested in Khmer women, in particular, a group of European merchants, Cambodian dignitaries, lesser princes, and palace employees served as go-betweens and occasional pimps.

So resident Europeans were all very discreet and well-behaved. The problem arose when the soldiery came visiting:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 11.38.03 PM.png

French soldiers in Phnom Penh. The little boy holds a sign that reads: “A group of 8 friends, 8 November, 1908”

Accustomed to the more straight-forward practices of Saigon, their behaviour gave often rise to scandal. In 1881, for instance, French administrators faced daily complaints against soldiers who were “chasing women at nighttime.” Hordes of rowdy soldiers regularly accosted women in the streets, trying to grab and kiss them…”


“Phnom Penh – young Cambodian girl” Jeune fille meant a respectable girl; fille meant a prostitute.

Thus were the modest beginnings of Phnom Penh’s  lurid modern reputation. The women were mostly Vietnamese, with only a few Khmers and Sino-Khmers drawn from the lower-ranking fringes of the palace world. There is, indeed, a book to be written about the royal palace and its inhabitants. Perhaps when I have the time.


C. Spire, Conseils d’hygiene aux coloniaux en partance pour l’indochine

Gregor Muller, Colonial Cambodia’s Bad Frenchmen

Jesus in Phnom Penh



Mike Evans

In late November 1994 an unquiet American came to Cambodia. His name was Mike Evans, and he was out to save souls. The crowd that turned out at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium  was estimated at 180,000, and although I have doubts about that figure given that the capacity of the stadium is only 50,000, it was certainly a lot of people. Pre-crusade publicity had promised that the blind would see and the lame would walk, and so they sold their animals and land and took out loans with local money-lenders and came to Phnom Penh.

Things started going wrong on day 1. 30,000 people turned up, and Evans’ security was swamped by the crowd. The event seemed on the verge of turning from rally to riot. “We have a problem here… we will get this sorted out for tomorrow night… I want you to pray now…” The Phnom Penh Post takes up the story:

Finally realizing that things were getting out of control Evans – a big man – gave up his microphone and took off. He hurried down the platform steps and along a small alleyway between the back of the stage and a fence in front of the main stand, shouldering local people out of the way.

Attempts to interview Evans at this time were difficult. He responded to calls of “Mike, Mike” by looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide and clearly panicked, sweating and ashen-faced, answering “what, what?”, before darting through a gate to a late model van.

“Greg, Greg… where are the keys,” he yelled repeatedly , but ‘Greg’ either did not have them or was possibly still on the stage, which was now being overrun.

Evans, caught in “no-mans land” in the open – and still far too close to the main crowd for his comfort – was quickly surrounded by Khmers and, though standing perhaps half a meter or more taller, was jostled and pressed.

A Khmer evangelist grabbed Evans and said “this way.”

Evans, dressed in a fine dark suit and tie, ran as fast as his loping, straight-armed gait would take him. At least two Khmers fell as the Western faith-healer fled.

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Mike Evans in Phnom Penh

The second night saw tighter security. It went ok. But on the third night it all came unstuck. The crowd, finally realising that no miracles would be forthcoming, turned angry. A van was stoned, police cleared the stadium, 30 people were arrested carrying handguns and grenades, and Evans and his team retreated to the Sofitel. The Post again:

At the hotel, shaken workers were still trembling and dumbfounded, looking for answers and composure. The Post visited Evans’ room but he refused interviews.

His cohorts were pleasant but firm in their assurances that they would talk to the press after a meeting with Evans, but Evans was too worked up.

He emerged at the door, shouting at a security guard that the press should be removed. He appeared agitated.”This man lied to you. He is not with us.Take him away,” he yelled.

Greg Mauso [other sources give his name as Mauro, but the Post has this spelling throughout], part of Evans’ crusade tour, said: “Relax Mike, I’ll deal with this” and eased Evans away from the door . Mauso promised an interview but later in the lobby he had more pressing meetings with shaken volunteers who had been followed to the hotel by a 200-strong mob driving motos. Troops had to keep them at bay.

Evans exited by the back door and was hurried out to the airport to catch a flight to Bangkok. Local Christian leaders, who had begged him not to come in the first place, later judged that he had set back the cause of Christian missions in Cambodia by 20 years.