The Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down more than 150 years in prison terms and $160,000 in fines Thursday to seven people for their involvement in an illegal Kompong Speu province drug production lab.
Starting Dec 27, a total of 21 suspects were brought before presiding Judge Iv Kimsry in the country’s largest-ever narcotics trial.
Chea Chung, a former advisor to Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, and Thai national Chha Nak Si, along with Chinese nationals Chin Thean Vin and Chhay Khang Xi, were given 25-year sentences and fined $25,000 each, while Chinese national Ra Yan was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $10,000. Additionally, Iv Kimsry sentenced in absentia Chinese national Siv Ty to 25 years in prison and gave a life sentence to a man the court identified only as Kuong. Both men were also fined $25,000 each.
On April 1, 2007 police conducted raids in Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu, and though no actual drugs were found, authorities confiscated approximately six tons of chemicals that they said were to be used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Fourteen Cambodians arrested during the raid claimed that they were hired on the understanding that they would be spraying chemicals on the land and had only been at the laboratory for one hour before their arrest. The 14 were found not guilty by the court Thursday.
Long Lun, a lawyer for local rights group Adhoc who represented the 14 men, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“They were just simple workers,” he said. “Some of them didn’t even get paid.”
Noticeably absent from the trial was RCAF Lieutenant-General Chum Tong Heng, 52, who was arrested by the National Authority for Combating Drugs in June in Phnom Penh for allegedly colluding in the drug laboratory.
Iv Kimsry told a reporter on Thursday that he had no idea where or who Chum Tong Heng was.
“There was no general—it was completely Chinese nationals,” he said.
Lour Ramin, secretary-general for the NACD, said that he also did not know why the general was not in court.
Controversy surrounded the drug lab bust back in August when National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin’s advisor Oum Chhay apparently leapt to his death from the second story of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department office.
He had been arrested a week earlier for his alleged involvement in the lab.
The Interior Ministry declared Oum Chhay’s death a suicide.
Interior Ministry anti-drug department director Moek Dara and Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Lars Pederson, lead project manager for the UN Office On Drugs and Crime, praised the court and police for seeing the case through from arrests to convictions.
“This clearly shows and demonstrates the commitment of the government…to see through the judicial processes that are needed for a credible and fully functioning drug control system,” he said.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)