Heroin Disguised as Health Tonic Intercepted at Post Office

Two people were arrested in Phnom Penh on Friday for trying to post almost 25 kg of a substance containing heroin—hidden in sachets labeled as a popular South Korean health tonic—to Australia.

In a case that bears a striking resemblance to a large haul of heroin posted from Cambodia to Australia and intercepted by authorities there in April, postal and customs officials at Phnom Penh’s main post office seized 600 sachets of the substance, Minister of Post and Telecommunications So Khun said yesterday.

Mr. Khun said officials confiscated a package addressed to Australia that they thought was suspicious at about 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

“We confiscated one box of packets branded ‘Korean Red Ginseng Tonic’ mailed to Australia. We didn’t know why they would be mailing these ingredients to Australia,” he said.

“Later, we invited anti-drug police to analyze it and they found that it contained heroin.”

Cambodian Sou Sarith, 54, a soldier, and a Vietnamese woman named Nguyen Nuhanh, 44, were arrested over the shipment, Mr. Khun said, adding that officials were cooperating with Australian authorities on the case.

Meas Vyrith, deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said that 24.67 kg of the fluid substance was found, estimating that it contained about 12 kg of pure heroin.

Brigadier General Ouk Hay Seila, transnational crime bureau chief at the Ministry of Interior’s internal security department, said that the two suspects were in the ministry’s custody and would be sent to court to be charged today.

In April, two Cambodians were arrested and charged in Melbourne, Australia, over about 65 kg of a substance containing heroin—which was disguised in hair dye sachets adorned with an image of a ginseng root.

In that case, a total of five packages recorded as “tea” were sent through the post office in Phnom Penh, but were only intercepted upon their arrival in Australia.

Mr. Khun, the minister, said yesterday it was not uncommon for the post office to find small amounts of heroin in parcels bound for overseas. “But this time, it is a big amount of heroin,” he said.

According to a report this month by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, only 2.4 kg and 2.1 kg of heroin were interdicted in Cambodia in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Although little is intercepted in Cambodia, heroin grown in the Golden Triangle region is thought to be smuggled across the Lao-Cambodian border and shipped abroad from Phnom Penh.

In a separate action by police in Phnom Penh yesterday, anti-drug officers arrested two Cambodians and two Lao nationals at about 2:30 p.m. and seized roughly 20,000 methamphetamine pills, said In Song, deputy chief of the processing unit at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug police department.

The Cambodians were caught with the pills in their room at the Bolina Palace hotel in Daun Penh district’s Phsar Thmei III commune, he said. The Lao nationals, the alleged ringleaders, were arrested at the Phka Meas guesthouse in Russei Keo district’s Prek Liep commune, Mr. Song said.

“They confessed to smuggling the 20,000 methamphetamine pills from the Lao border at Preah Vihear province,” Mr. Song said.

“All of them are in anti-drug police custody at the Ministry of Interior for questioning.”

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis)

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