The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday released with a small fine five Chinese nationals who were arrested over a huge cache of chemicals, which anti-drug police believed was destined for the production of illegal narcotics.
The court, however, concluded that the substances were illegal, but were not, as police had suspected, meant for the drugs trade.
Police from the economic crimes department detained the five Chinese nationals on Tuesday when they raided a warehouse in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune and discovered more than 106 tons of chemicals—including controlled substances that are used to make narcotics—being stored without the correct licenses.
The substances were handed to the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) for testing, and officials were convinced—especially since the chemicals matched those found last year on a Kompong Speu province farm, which police said was being used as a massive methamphetamine production laboratory.
Judge Chhe Virak, reading the verdict on Friday, said the five were only guilty under the recently established law on acid crimes, and not of drug-related charges.
“The court decides to fine Chi Hai Chhing, 38, director of the company [that owned the warehouse] 8 million riel [about $2,000] for the import, possession and distribution of chemical substances,” Judge Virak said.
Jiang Kor Ling, 36; Ian Chean Hao, 34; Hinh Pinh, 20; and Yor Thaov Sinh, 35, were fined 1 million riel [about $250] each for being Mr. Chi’s accomplices, he said.
Giving evidence, Mr. Chi said he had imported the chemicals to sell as cleaning products to the garment industry, and said he thought the firm importing them had obtained licenses. “I don’t know whether the people who transport for me had license or not,” he said.
Deputy prosecutor Keu Bunnara also argued in court for the Chinese nationals to be released with only fines.
“Those chemical substances are not for drug production,” Mr. Bunnara claimed. “This time, they can have their freedom.”
NACD Deputy Secretary-General Meas Vyrith, who had said he suspected the chemicals were going to be used to produce drugs, perhaps heroin, was not so sure of the court’s quick decision.
“This is the court’s power so I cannot comment,” Mr. Vyrith said.
“These chemical ingredients seem like a weapon with two faces. If we use them for good, it is a good thing. But if we use them for bad, it would cause our country a serious accident.”