The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday questioned five Chinese nationals after they were arrested during a seizure of more than 106 tons of chemicals police suspect were intended for the production of illegal drugs.
The four men and one woman, who were arrested on Tuesday, claimed that the chemicals were to be used to make detergent for the garment industry, according to Brigadier General Long Sreng, deputy chief of the Ministry of Interior’s economic police department.
The suspects did not have a license to store the chemicals—which included a number of controlled substances that are known to be used in producing drugs—which were contained in hundreds of bags, boxes and barrels in a warehouse in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune.
Believing they had stumbled upon a massive cache of precursor chemicals, police brought in the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), which is currently analyzing samples from the warehouse.
Brig. Gen. Sreng said he could not rule out that the chemicals may have been for legitimate uses.
“We cannot say that all these chemical substances would be used for producing drugs because we are now waiting to see the test results,” he said.
“We have to crack down on this as an economic case [anyway] because they are banned goods and controlled substances in line with the drug law.”
He added that the five suspects—Jiang Kor Ling, Ian Chean Hao, Hinh Pinh, Chi Hai Chhing and Yor Thaov Sinh—were sent to the municipal court for questioning Thursday but were returned to Interior Ministry custody without being charged.
The 106.78 tons of chemicals were discovered at the warehouse after neighbors reported a strong smell to local authorities
The chemicals included large quantities of acetic acid, sodium hydroxide—or caustic soda—and sodium thiosulfate.
NACD Deputy Secretary-General Meas Vyrith said the chemicals are known to be used in the production of illegal drugs, including heroin.
“We are now investigating and testing these substances, but I think these named substances are ingredients used to produce drugs because they appear in the table of controlled substances used for drugs,” he said.