Police arrested five people, in-cluding two Chinese nationals, and seized about 2 tons of a controlled substance related to methamphetamine production in raids in Kom-pong Cham province and Phnom Penh, officials said Monday.
Another related raid is expected in the capital today, said Meas Vyr-ith, director of the Interior Minis–try’s National Authority for Com-bating Drugs.
Seun Lonh, 52, from Kompong Cham’s Kang Meas district, was arrested Saturday when police surrounded his Kang Tanoeng commune house, said provincial police chief Noun Samin. Police were or-iginally alerted by neighbors who noticed a foul smell coming from the house, and had been investigating the case for two months, he added.
Police seized in Kompong Cham 1,727 kg of the plant ephedra, 48 liters of an unidentified liquid chemical, 13 kg of ephedra seeds, 3.4 kg of an unidentified white powder, other ephedra byproducts and two large boiling pans, provincial dep-uty police chief Chin Senghong said.
Four unidentified individuals, including two Chinese nationals, were arrested in a related raid Sun-day in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district, Meas Vyrith said.
Ephedra naturally contains eph-edrine, a stimulant commonly used in cold medicine and Chinese traditional medicine.
But it is also an ingredient in methamphetamine pills, which is why the law in Cambodia requires businesses that are handling the plant to be licensed, Meas Vyrith explained. The suspects were not licensed, he added.
“They tried to extract [ephed-rine from the plant], but were not successful because they do not have enough experience,” he said. Police did not find drugs, but during the Phnom Penh raid they seized paraphernalia such as a tablet-making machine, he added.
Seun Lonh, a fisherman, told pol-ice he didn’t realize he was helping to produce a controlled substance, and had been paid $1,000 to produce ephedra extract to be sent to Phnom Penh, Chin Senghong said. Kompong Cham court clerk Sem Kimse said Seun Lonh was charged, though he did not re-member the exact charge.
The investigation was prompted by information from Australian police that an arrest made there was connected to ephedrine from Cambodia, NACD Secretary-Gen-eral Mok Dara said.
Authorities suspect the ephedra was introduced to Cambodia earlier this month, and that the extracted drug would have been sent abroad, likely to the US, China and Australia, he added.
“I will still cooperate with overseas police to arrest the ringleader abroad because I think there are orders from overseas to buy this product,” he said, adding that foreign experts were expected in Cambodia today.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson confirmed in an e-mail Monday that an agent from the US Drug Enforcement Administration would assist the National Police in their investigation.
Australian Embassy spokeswoman Fiona Cochaud wrote in an e-mail Monday that members of the Specialized Response Amphet-amine Team of the country’s federal police were helping too.