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Philippine police unearth ‘torture chamber’ in sex den licensed as offshore gaming firm

Police in the Philippines have unearthed what they described as a “torture chamber” hidden inside a sex den masquerading as an offshore gaming firm.

Photos released by the Philippine Anti-Organised Crime Commission (PAOCC) on Thursday showed handcuffs, truncheons, baseball bats, rattan sticks, tasers, a wooden club and an airsoft gun that police said were used to torture at least two foreign workers of Smart Web Technology.

“They torture those who have not paid their fees, especially if they rented a prostitution room and hired women, and also those who ran afoul of them,” PAOCC executive director Gilbert Cruz said at a news briefing.

A task force formed by the Justice Ministry raided a six-storey building leased by Smart Web in the regional capital Metro Manila on Friday, detaining over 700 of the company’s employees, mostly Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese.

“The crime that was found is sex trafficking,” Justice Undersecretary Nicolas Felix Ty told reporters.

He said the raiding team found at Smart Web’s premises an “aquarium” – a viewing room where women were lined up and picked by men paying for sexual services.

Then there were floors and private karaoke rooms “for extra service”, he said, suggesting these were places where sexual services were provided.

“There’s even a menu of different sexual services,” said Mr Ty.

Mr Cruz said the company also ran love and crypto scams.

Nine of Smart Web’s executives were arrested. Five of them – four Chinese and a Filipino – underwent inquest proceedings on charges of human trafficking and torture, according to the PAOCC.

Police records showed one of the rescued Chinese said he was “kidnapped” and “sold” for 500,000 pesos (S$12,000). Another victim, also Chinese, said he was forced to work from 12 to 15 hours a day for more than a year.

Mr Ty said Smart Web – which also went by the names Freego Computer Gaming OPC and Xushen Technology – had secured a licence to operate as a “Philippine offshore gaming operator”, or Pogo.

Pogos thrived under former president Rodrigo Duterte. allowing gamblers in China to play the odds without running afoul of Chinese laws. Gambling is banned in China.

Real estate consultancy Leechiu had estimated that these companies employed over 300,000 Chinese and Filipino workers, and added up to 190 billion pesos into the Philippine economy each year.

But in recent years, the Philippines has seen a wave of Pogo-related crimes, including kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, and love and crypto scams.

These were linked to other scams being run in Cambodia and Myanmar.

In July, police rescued nearly 3,000 workers from a compound operated by Xinchuang Network Technology, another licensed Pogo. Four were Singaporeans.

Two senators have asked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to ban Pogos.

“Not only have Pogos made our country a playground for their criminal activities, they also owe our government billions of unpaid taxes,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros.

PhilippinesINTERNET CRIMES AND SCAMSSCAMSPROSTITUTION/COMMERCIAL SEX