Justice for double-crossed Cambodians

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian officials and workers on Tuesday hailed the arrest of a Greek man in Athens on charges of masterminding a scam that promised more than 1,200 Cambodians jobs linked to the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. Ioannis Petropoulos, 56, was arrested and charged on Friday with multiple fraud in Athens. Greek authorities said he also used the last names Petris and Patrick. He and his associates collected more than $600,000 in «deposits» from 1,263 Cambodians after promising them full-time construction jobs preparing Athens for the 2004 Games. The Cambodians, most of them unemployed and destitute, deposited $500 each after borrowing or selling meager assets. Many went bankrupt and others suffered broken marriages. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia and about one third of its 12 million people live on less than $1 per day, according to the United Nations. «For us and for the workers, his arrest is a just act,» Hou Vuthy, deputy director of the Labor Department at Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, said Tuesday. «We congratulate the Greek government for its work in arresting the culprit.» Chhev Leng, one of the duped workers, reacted with joy when told of the arrest. «I always thought (Petropoulos) was a regular businessman,» Chhev Leng said. «But I’m very excited. That’s justice.» Last year, a little-known company, Cambodian Consultant and Associate, recruited the Cambodian workers on behalf of a newly formed Canadian company, JRN International Corporation of Montreal, which was allegedly headed by John Petris. During a search of Petropoulos’s Athens home, Greek police found documents, stamps and contracts for 1,263 Cambodians, along with 500 medical examinations. In a long-distance telephone interview with The Associated Press in October, a man in Montreal who identified himself as John Petris claimed to have a 500-page contract from Greek authorities to build Olympic-related facilities. But Greek authorities denied the existence of any such contract. Pok Yuthea, a Cambodian businessman who owns the recruiting firm Cambodian Consultant and Associate, disappeared in January when the government issued an arrest warrant against him. Hou Vuthy said the government had reimbursed the workers and will recoup the money by selling Pok Yuthea’s assets.