KUCHING, Feb 16 — The Sarawak state government will bear all the costs to be incurred in bringing home 44 Sarawakians released from detention in Cambodia yesterday, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg said today.
He said state Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah and the federal Foreign Ministry are working with Cambodian authorities to arrange for the return of the Sarawakians home.
“They are expected to arrive here either tomorrow or on Monday,” Abang Johari told reporters after chairing Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) supreme council’s meeting at the party headquarters in Bako Road.
He said the state government has also undertaken to pay all the legal fees, including legal counsel, should the Sarawakians be brought to court to stand trial.
“I have given instructions to Fatimah to see that our ‘Anak Sarawak’ are taken care,” he said.
He said the Sarawakians were victims of scams and that they were promised a salary of US$1,500 (RM6,000) a month by the international gambling syndicate.
He said the state government was quietly working with the Foreign Ministry to secure their release through diplomatic channels according to international protocol.
Abang Johari thanked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodian Minister of Justice Ang Voon Vothana, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and Cambodian Senior Minister of Special Functions Datuk Othsman Hassan and officials for the release of the 44 Sarawakians.
He also thanked Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Wisma Putra officials.
The 44 Sarawakians are among 47 Malaysians detained in a Cambodian prison since last December for allegedly running illegal online gambling.
The detainees, aged between 19 to 44, have been imprisoned since they were arrested in December last year.
The detention prompted the Malaysian embassy to submit a letter to the Justice Ministry calling for their release.
Lieutenant Colonel Khem Sophoan, chief of the provincial police’s minor crime bureau, quoted by a local newspaper, had said a total of 55 people were arrested during a raid on a gambling den.
He had said the provincial police received a report from its intelligence officers that the detainees were running an online gambling operation.
Armed with a search warrant, the police took more than an hour to breach a house used as a gambling den, noting that the door was locked and the suspects hid in the basement of the house.
He also claimed that the detainees had destroyed their hard drives from six or seven computers and upon being questioned, they denied committing any crime.
Lt Col Sophoan noted that the 55 people snared in the raid included eight Chinese nationals. He said that several of the Chinese suspects were released after a request was made by lawyers.