A 70-year-old American expatriate was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison for small-scale drug dealing, but a judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court suspended one year on account of the defendant’s age.
Michael Ryan, a retiree who claims he worked for the World Bank’s country office in the early 1990s, was arrested on November 24 at the intersection of streets 51 and 184 in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, according to Presiding Judge Seng Leang.
During his trial on July 1, the judge said Mr. Ryan was caught in the act of selling two small bags of crystal methamphetamine to a young Cambodian woman, but the American countered that he was in fact purchasing the drugs for $20.
Mr. Ryan said he broke his leg 12 years ago and had successfully used methamphetamine to dull the pain several times before his arrest—not by smoking the drug, he claimed, but by mixing it with water and applying it topically.
“I knew it was illegal, but I just bought it to treat my injury. When it’s very cold, my broken leg hurts a lot,” Mr. Ryan said through a translator. “I had used the drug to smear on my broken leg, and it took away the pain.”
Pleading for leniency, he said he had been forced to stop purchasing crystal meth when he was arrested and jailed last year.
“I have heart disease and weak kidneys,” he said. “Prey Sar prison made me stop using the drug…and when I leave prison, I will not use it and go back to the United States of America.”
At the time, Mr. Ryan’s lawyer, Mon Vimeanchampa, urged the court to convict his client of drug use, not trafficking.
“He has many different diseases. If he is detained for a long time, he could die in prison,” he said.
Judge Leang said Mr. Ryan is set to be released in less than five months.
“After consideration, the court believes this was minor drug trafficking, and the defendant is an old man,” he announced in the courtroom on Friday. “The court decides to sentence Michael Ryan…to two years, but orders him to serve only one year—with the remainder suspended—and fines him 6 million riel,” or about $1,500.
Mr. Ryan, a hunched figure with long white hair and full white beard, was impassive as the judge read the verdict and remained silent as he was escorted from the courtroom.
Contacted later, his lawyer, Mr. Vimeanchampa, said his client would likely appeal.
World Bank spokesman Bou Saroeun said he did not know whether Mr. Ryan worked for the organization in the early ’90s, as the American claimed, but that he would check with his superiors in Washington. He declined to comment on the drug case.
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