Our Legal Attache in Cambodia
Legat Phnom Penh
Our New Outpost in Southeast Asia
When Laro Tan was a child, his family was forced to flee Cambodia during the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Today, he’s back in his native land as an FBI agent working to stand up our new overseas office in its capital city of Phnom Penh.
The office—called a Legal Attaché or “Legat”—is one of some 60 Bureau outposts around the world. Each is headed by a special agent (also called a Legat) who serves as a formal member of the diplomatic staff in the U.S. Embassy and works to build close, mutually beneficial relationships with his or her international colleagues.
We call on these partnerships quite often. “So many of our investigations these days have an overseas connection,” says Tan, who was appointed acting Legat when the office officially opened in May. “We don’t have the authority to make arrests or track leads ourselves in other countries, so we go to our partners and ask for help. In return, we offer assistance in their cases with U.S. connections and encourage their agencies and officers to take advantage of the many training programs we offer.”
Why an office in Phnom Penh? Before, Cambodia was covered by the Bangkok Legat—which is more than 330 miles away from Phnom Penh—making relationship building more difficult. Now, Legat Tan handles both Cambodia and Vietnam, providing more on the ground coverage in the growing region of Southeast Asia.
The day-to-day work of the Legat. “It’s extremely busy, I can tell you that,” says Tan, who is permanently assigned to our Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate in Washington. “The FBI office in New York, say, might need help in tracking a suspect who has fled to Cambodia or who has bank accounts in this country. Or there might be an Asian gang in San Francisco that has ties to Cambodia or Vietnam that needs to be explored. And I’m constantly evaluating and providing assessments of threats that might migrate to U.S. shores.”
His specific partners include the Cambodian National Police, and in Vietnam, the Interpol office of the General Department of the Police, a division of the Ministry of Public Security.
Thanks to these relationships, in place long before the Legat was opened, we’ve shared several key successes in recent years:
- Information and support provided by Cambodian officials helped lead to the capture of wanted terrorist Riduan Bin Isamuddin—aka Hambali—who orchestrated the bombing in Bali that killed more than 200 people in October 2002. Hambali was arrested in Thailand in 2003.
- In November 2000, Cambodian Freedom Fighters tried to overthrow the government by attacking sites throughout Phnom Penh. A joint investigation led to the arrest of several of the subversives.
“In this day and age, the relationships we’ve built and continue to build in Cambodia and Vietnam are invaluable,” says Tan. “That’s why I’m here—to get to know my colleagues personally, to be a bridge between our countries. For me, especially as a native of Cambodia, I consider it an honor.”