The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday sentenced four Thai women to life in jail for attempting to traffic narcotics through Phnom Penh International Airport in two separate cases in August last year.
On August 7 and 8, 2012—amid a flurry of large drug busts at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports—29-year-old Thumdee Varangkana and accomplice Thangboon Ketkarn, 31, were arrested by Cambodian authorities after they tried to smuggle 3.6 kg of cocaine into the country from Ecuador via Singapore.
Despite both denying in court earlier this month that they knew their luggage contained cocaine, Judge Ly Lip Meng on Friday handed both women life sentences and a fine of 100 million riel, or about $25,000.
“If you do not accept this conviction, you have a period of one month after the verdict to appeal,” Judge Lip Meng said.
Also at the court Friday, Judge Suos Sam Ath sentenced Piwjansod Utsantnee, 20, and Hullas Nanthiya, 27—who were caught at Phnom Penh airport on August 13 trying to smuggle 4.78 kg of methamphetamine—to life imprisonment and fines of 60 million riel, or about $15,000, and 80 million riel, or about $20,000, respectively.
Ms. Piwjansod claimed in a May hearing that she was given the luggage in Ghana by a friend of her husband named John, and had no idea that it contained narcotics.
Speaking outside the court as she was led away to jail, Ms. Hullas said she was not sure whether she would appeal the conviction.
Last year also saw a spate of other drug-related arrests. In August, in another case, two Thai women were caught with a total of 26 kg of cocaine at the Phnom Penh airport, also en route from Ecuador. Then in October, two Thai women were caught with a total of 11 kg of cocaine at Siem Reap airport.
The cases raised concerns that Cambodia is being used as a transit point by international criminal organizations to feed a growing market for the high-value drug in Thailand. In the whole of 2011, Cambodian police only seized 1.1 kg of cocaine.