Four people were sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for trafficking the largest haul of methamphetamine ever seized in the country.
Cambodian defendant Liv Soeu, 43, and Chinese nationals Deng Yuan Ping, 53, and Ly Yong, 43, were present at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as the guilty verdict was delivered. Dam Nha, a Stung Treng City councilor, was convicted in absentia and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
“The court decides to sentence Liv Soeu, Deng Yuan Ping, Ly Yong and Dam Nha to life in prison and fine them 60 million riel [about $15,000] each for drug manufacturing, possession and trafficking,” Presiding Judge Pech Vicheathor announced.
Mr. Soeu’s girlfriend, Phal Rany, 24, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 6 million riel, or about $1,500, for helping the men manufacture and distribute the drugs—nearly 55 kg of meth and heroin worth about $3 million.
The court also froze bank accounts belonging to the three Cambodian defendants and seized land and property owned by Mr. Soeu and Mr. Nha in the provinces of Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng.
The drugs at the center of the case—38 kg of crystal meth, 16 kg of methamphetamine tablets and 345 grams of heroin—was found in a safe in Mr. Nha’s Russei Keo district apartment in June last year following a three-month investigation led by police in Phnom Penh and Stung Treng. Investigators say the narcotics smuggled into Cambodia from Laos were destined for Taiwan, save a small quantity that was to be sold in local nightclubs.
On trial in July, Ms. Rany attempted to backtrack on her initial admission of guilt, claiming that she falsely implicated herself and Mr. Soeu after learning that he was having an affair. Ms. Rany then admitted she had also been unfaithful and that the drugs must have belonged to her lover, Mr. Nha, whom she identified as a rubber farmer. Mr. Soeu corroborated her story.
Three weeks later, the Chinese men told the court that their police-provided interpreter had misrepresented their initial statements, also claiming that they only knew the Cambodian couple from visiting their restaurant after meeting Mr. Soeu at NagaWorld casino.
Mr. Deng added that a “small package” he was caught with was for medical purposes. “I have a brain tumor. I have pain in my head and when I use the drugs, it gets better,” he said at the time.
As he was escorted from the courthouse and into a prison van on Tuesday, Mr. Soeu vowed to appeal the verdict. “I didn’t do it. I was imprisoned at the time,” he said.
Indeed, Mr. Soeu was arrested in Stung Treng over a separate drug case several months before the meth and heroin was found in Mr. Nha’s apartment.
But according to San Sothy, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department, an undercover operative known only as Agent 5502 was “arrested” alongside Mr. Soeu and sent to the provincial prison posing as a fellow trafficker. There, the agent overheard Mr. Soeu call Ms. Rany and tell her: “Please, move the safe from the rental house,” Major General Sothy said in July, referring to the safe the drugs were found in.
Benson Samay, a high-powered attorney who represented Mr. Nha, said the verdict was “unjust,” and that he would request a retrial.
“There is no evidence to inculpate him. While this case was happening, he was receiving treatment in Thailand,” he said, adding that Mr. Nha was still in Thailand.
Maj. Gen. Sothy said efforts were underway to track down the city councilor. “We are attempting to find and arrest Dam Nha,” he said.
Chong Eav Heng, a lawyer for Mr. Soeu and Ms. Rany, missed the sentencing after a clerk told him the decision would be handed down next week.
“The court clerk told me the verdict would be announced on September 26, so I left the court,” Mr. Eav Heng said, adding that he would nonetheless file an appeal on behalf of his clients.