On the first day of ex-drug czar Moek Dara’s trial yesterday, Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court prosecutors accused the former lieutenant general and other charged anti-drug officers of siphoning off 5 kg of heroin seized in a 2007 drug raid.
“They allegedly kept 5 kilograms of confiscated heroin to traffic themselves,” said Judge Theam Chanpisith, one of three judges hearing the case.
Mr Dara, the former head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, was arrested in January along with anti-drug officer Chea Leng, both of whom face 37 counts of bribery and drug trafficking. A third defendant, anti-drug officer Morm Doeun, remains at large and is being tried in absentia.
According to a copy of the indictment obtained yesterday, Mr Leng in 2007 apprehended two suspected drug dealers and confiscated 6 kg of heroin near Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld Casino—which at the time was inside a ship moored off the Tonle Sap river.
“Chea Leng prepared the report and fabricated facts about the confiscated drugs and sent it to court,” the indictment reads. “About 5 kilograms of heroin powder, equal to 15 bags, were kept by Chea Leng and his squads for personal possession, as well as $9,000 in cash and the jewelry of [suspected drug dealer] Soth Romanea.”
The indictment also accuses Mr Leng of confiscating the suspected drug dealer’s vehicle and selling it to a subordinate for $500.
Judge Chanpisith said Mr Leng and Mr Dara—implicated in the count for signing off on Mr Leng’s report—professed innocence.
But Phon Chin, a provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said an anti-drug officer told the court yesterday that Mr Leng had personally given him $5,000 to buy 6 kg of heroin.
He added, though, that Mr Leng did admit to keeping the car out of the report. But rather than selling it, the former anti-drug officer reportedly told the court that he kept it for police business.
Judge Chanpisith said the court dropped one of the original 38 counts against the defendants from 2006 because the case file prepared by the prosecution only went back to 2007. It remained unclear yesterday why the case file did not go back further.
According to the indictment, the report Mr Leng prepared for the court about the 2006 drug raid in Stung Treng province said his officers had confiscated 990 grams of heroin from a pair of suspected drug dealers. But according to other court documents quoting a former anti-drug officer, they in fact confiscated 1.2 kg, the difference staying with Mr Leng.
Despite the court’s decision to drop the count, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Soum Chankea, welcomed the start of the trial.
“Civil society strongly supports the efforts of the provincial court to try this high-profile case of corruption and drug trafficking committed by a general and his subordinates,” he said. “This sends a powerful message that government officials must not use their positions and ranks to serve personal interests.”
But at the same time, rights groups have knocked the courts and the government’s nascent Anti-Corruption Unit, whose investigation brought about the trial, for not pursuing charges against more subordinates—and even superiors—likely involved in the crimes.
As for the defendants at hand, the indictment accuses them of taking at least $300,000 in bribes since 2007 either for releasing drug suspects or falsifying reports to lessen their charges.
Just fewer than half the counts involve hiding at least 10 kg of heroin, thousands of methamphetamine pills and several grams of ice, methamphetamine in its crystal form.
Though some of the counts lack exact figures of money taken and drugs hidden, the indictment also accuses Mr Dara of using his home in Tuol Kok district to sell the drugs on to other drug dealers.
The trial continues today, and with more than 100 witnesses to hear, it is expected to last months.