Five Sihanoukville port customs officials were charged with drug trafficking Friday and authorities in Phnom Penh arrested an RCAF two-star general and a lieutenant colonel as part of ongoing police operations to smash heroin smuggling rings in Cambodia.
The five customs officials, which include Sihanoukville Customs bureau chief, Kin Ly, and his deputy, Pen Sarath, were detained at Sihanoukville Port and whisked to Phnom Penh, where they appeared in Municipal Court on Friday afternoon.
Pen Sarath is the brother of Pen Siman, director of the Customs Department, police said.
“All five customs officials have been detained this morning for questioning for their involvement in the drug issue,” Sihanoukville Municipality Police Chief Daung Saroeun said Friday.
Two Municipal Court clerks said the five were charged in relation to the smuggling of 24 kg of heroin to Australia in April. The heroin, worth around $14.5 million, was stashed inside a cargo of fish paste.
According to court documents seen by reporters at the courthouse, customs officers Kin Ly, Pen Sarath, Sao Korn, Men Preung and Hin Sovann Dara were charged as accomplices in drug smuggling. The charge carries a jail term of 10 to 20 years, the clerks said.
In Phnom Penh on Friday morning, police also launched raids on two residences and a hotel in a hunt for RCAF military intelligence Major General Dom Hak and Lieutenant Colonel Muon Sokhan over their alleged links to the discovery last week of 35 kg of heroin and 5 kg of amphetamine in a Tuol Kok residence.
Police who raided a residence owned by Dom Hak on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard said amphetamine powder was discovered but declined to give further details.
Arrest warrants were issued for the two officers following statements made by military intelligence officer Lim Samnang, who was arrested with 12 others after last week’s heroin and amphetamine haul, police and court officials said.
The suspects include Taiwanese and ethnic Chinese nationals who police have linked to the powerful Chinese Triad Mafia group known as the 14K.
Police and military police later moved on to the nearby Sok Soursdey Hotel, reportedly owned by Dom Hak, and conducted a search of the stylish hotel’s 21 bedrooms and 11 karaoke rooms. No drugs were found at the hotel nor during a police search at a second villa in the Russei Keo district that Dom Hak was reported to have visited frequently.
“According to the confession made by suspects among the 13, they said they were under the command of General Dom Hak,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Friday.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh confirmed late Friday that both officers were arrested on drug charges.
“Yes, two military officials were detained for involvement with drugs,” Tea Banh said. “This affects [the reputation] of the military but what can we do,” he added.
General Mol Roeup, head of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence unit, said Friday the two arrested soldiers were not under his command.
Graham Shaw of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime in Phnom Penh commended authorities on the latest string of arrests and detentions related to the heroin smuggling scam.
“It shows the capacity of the police to investigate and also indicates the extent of the trafficking networks that are operating in Cambodia. We are now wondering how high [the network] goes,” Shaw said.
Over the past few years, the UNODC in Cambodia had received credible information on the involvement of high-ranking officials in a sophisticated heroin-smuggling operation.
Sourced in the Golden Triangle, the heroin was reportedly smuggled through Stung Treng province and down the Mekong River for domestic consumption and international shipment.
(Additional reporting Kevin Doyle)