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Prisoner Freed by Gunmen in Cambodian Dental Office Raid Arrested With 10 Accomplices

FILE - Five armed men stormed into a dental clinic in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on Aug. 17, 2023, to free a Chinese citizen serving a prison term for drug trafficking, Cambodian police said.
FILE - Five armed men stormed into a dental clinic in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on Aug. 17, 2023, to free a Chinese citizen serving a prison term for drug trafficking, Cambodian police said.

An imprisoned Taiwanese drug lord who was freed by masked shooters during a dental appointment in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province earlier this month has been arrested along with 10 accomplices following a manhunt, Cambodian police announced.

The convict, Chen Hsin Han, 45, was serving a 52-year sentence for drug trafficking. He was freed the morning of August 17 while being escorted by four prison guards to a dental office in Siem Reap City, according to a prison letter obtained by VOA Khmer.

Closed-circuit TV footage from the dental facility was also shared widely on social media, showing the armed men wearing masks and threatening the prison guards using guns with silencers.

At a press conference, Cambodian police officials said they recaptured the prisoner in a Phnom Penh housing complex and had detained 10 accomplices in total.

"We almost finished the crackdown because we arrested the mastermind who is the prisoner, Chen Hsin Han," said Mok Chito, the deputy national police chief in charge of the anti-drug crime unit.

He said police were still investigating whether additional individuals were involved.

The arrested suspects are Taiwanese, Cambodian American and Turkish, according to police. Police initially identified Chen as Chinese, but Mok Chito said he was Taiwanese.

Authorities say the suspects spent two months planning the raid in the United States and arrived in Cambodia about two weeks before launching the plot. According to Mok Chito, some of the Cambodian Americans are from Long Beach, California, which has one of the oldest and largest Khmer communities in the U.S.

Mok Chito said Cambodian police have contacted the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia about the case.

"We have sent names and passports to [the U.S. Embassy] to investigate what offenses they have committed in the U.S.," he said at the press conference Wednesday.

Katherine Diop, US embassy spokesperson, said the embassy officials are aware of the media reports on this case.

"Whenever a U.S. citizen is arrested/detained overseas, Embassy personnel provide appropriate consular assistance. We are monitoring the situation and for additional questions refer you to Cambodian law enforcement officials," she said in an email to VOA Khmer Tuesday.

The brazen nature and bizarre circumstances of the raid has led to some speculation online that it was staged, but Mok Chito dismissed those claims at the press conference.

"It is not a theatrical case," he told reporters.

The convict, Mok Chito added, might receive a life sentence for ordering the breakout attempt. The case has now been sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

According to government-aligned news outlet Fresh News, after storming the clinic, the gunmen fled in a Lexus 330 SUV. Police found the vehicle, guns and other related evidence on the outskirts of Siem Reap.

Chen, who was arrested in February 2009 and convicted, had a toothache that made it difficult for him to eat, according to prison documents obtained by VOA Khmer.

Cambodian news outlet CamboJA reported that Chen wielded significant influence at the Siem Reap province prison where he was held, using bribes to secure everything from an air-conditioning unit to alcohol and a flat-screen TV. He also had a basketball hoop to use in the prison yard.

Phean Chhorvan, director of the Siem Reap provincial prison, denied allegations that Chen had special privileges. Bribery was prohibited, according to the CamboJA report.

Radio Free Asia, citing Taiwanese court documents, reported that Chen was allegedly using WhatsApp to continue to oversee heroin trafficking operations from the prison.

A 2021 Global Organized Crime Index profile of Cambodia said the country’s "porous borders and corrupt and underdeveloped law enforcement structures" have contributed to drug trafficking there.