The municipal court charged two Peruvian men and a Thai woman with drug trafficking offenses Wednesday after police arrested one of the men with about a kilogram of cocaine at Phnom Penh International Airport, officials said.
Acting on a tip from US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, police at the airport Oct 6 arrested a 23-year-old man arriving from Peru, identified in court documents as Heder Martel Rojas, officials said.
Rojas had swallowed about 1 kg of cocaine, according to Lour Ramin, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs. Officials said the narcotic was contained in 106 individual packages.
During questioning, Rojas gave information that led police Saturday to arrest a Peruvian man identified in court documents as Rodol Foniek Otero Farias, 27, and a Thai woman named Wan Pasom Sudjai, 26. The pair was apprehended at a Siem Reap hotel, police and court officials said.
“The two Peruvian men were charged with illegally trafficking 106 packages of cocaine and a Thai woman was charged with conspiracy,” said deputy municipal prosecutor Ngeth Sarath. The three are being held at Prey Sar prison.
The pair arrested in Siem Reap are suspected of planning to transport the cocaine to Thailand via the Poipet International Border Checkpoint, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.
The suspects’ destination was Bangkok but they decided to cross the border by land to help avoid detection, he added.
According to Lour Ramin, it is particularly difficult for Cambodian police to detect contraband hidden inside traffickers’ bodies.
“This is a new method for smugglers in Cambodia,” he said, adding that the alleged traffickers may belong to a larger network.
This was the third seizure of cocaine in Cambodia this year, bringing the total haul to 3 kg, Lour Ramin said.
“Before it was not a problem, but recently we have noticed more cocaine coming in,” he said. “[The arrest] is because of international cooperation, especially from the DEA of the US.”
Airport police chief Chhuor Kimny referred questions to anti-drug police chief Moek Dara, who could not be contacted.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said he could neither confirm nor deny whether US officials had cooperated in the arrests.
Graham Shaw, a technical officer on drug use at the World Health Organization, said cocaine use does not appear to be a widespread problem in Cambodia and its surrounding countries.
“I don’t recall, certainly in the last five years, cocaine ever being referenced as a concern anywhere in the region,” he said.
“There have been rumors going for the last couple of years that South American drug dealers have been traveling in Cambodia to do deals and that they’ve been paying for heroin with cocaine,” Shaw added.
According to the 2006 World Drug Report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, cocaine use in Asia has been stable and hardly noticeable at all over the last decade.
The report says that in 2004, a kilogram of cocaine typically sold for $34,954 in Hong Kong, $46,380 in Japan and $162,387 in Australia. The same amount would cost only $1,000 in Peru, the report said.