Police raids on a Phnom Penh house and a suspected Kompong Speu province methamphetamine laboratory netted 18 suspects and three tons of chemicals believed to be used in the production of drugs, officials said Monday.
Officials said the weekend haul likely represented Cambodia’s biggest-ever seizure of precursor chemicals for drugs.
Three Chinese nationals, one Thai man and 14 Cambodians were arrested in the dusk-to-dawn operations which began Saturday evening, said Moek Dara, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department.
Moek Dara was unable to provide the names and ages of the suspects. “We raided both places at the same time,” he said of the operations in Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu province.
A Chinese woman was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district with a ton of chemical substances Sunday. Seventeen men were also arrested on a 20-hectare plot of land in Phnom Sruoch district’s Treng Trayoeng commune in Kompong Speu province, Moek Dara said.
Moek Dara said he could not say how many amphetamine tablets had so far been produced but manufacturing was underway when the raid was launched. It was still too early to say how much amphetamine the chemicals could have produced, he added.
Lour Ramin, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said that, in terms both of the quantity of chemicals seized and the scale of the police investigation, the operation was a first for Cambodia.
NACD laboratory Director Meas Vyrith said the seizure included 400 to 500 kg of chloroephedrine, a substance created during the production of methamphetamine. The remainder of the chemicals were still being analyzed, he said.
“[The] substances are in 17 containers and our police are cooperating with US [Drug Enforcement Administration] experts to analyze the chemicals,” Moek Dara said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said he was aware of a Cambodian request for DEA assistance but could not say whether a decision to cooperate had yet been made.
The authorities must now decide how to store the chemicals, Moek Dara said.
“We’ve got approval from [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng to form a commission on how to store these chemicals because these chemicals are dangerous,” he said. The manufacture of amphetamine and methamphetamine involves the use of hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Moek Dara said police intended to send the Chinese woman to Phnom Penh Municipal Court today. Kompong Speu provincial Police Chief Keo Pisey said the authorities also planned to send the 17 other suspects to the provincial court today.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison.)