A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Tuesday postponed for two weeks the trial of two police officials who authorities allege were involved in the operation of a marijuana plantation in Kampot province.
Judge Nop Sophon said he needs more time to investigate claims from one of the accused that senior government officials took bribes to protect the roughly 40-hectare marijuana crop from destruction.
“The director of the National Police [Hok Lundy] and the provincial governor [Ly Sou] will be invited to the court,” Prosecutor Chhin Chiva said.
In April 2000, police arrested Kampot province Deputy Police Chief Keo Tha, 49, and Keo Bunthoeun, 47, chief of Intervention Police at the Interior Ministry, for their alleged involvement with the plantation. The arrests followed the government’s destruction of the marijuana crop.
Soon after his arrest, Keo Tha accused two senior members of Cambodia anti-narcotics police and two senior RCAF officials of collecting $80,000 in bribes from the plantation’s operators.
The accused claim they acted only as middle-men to locate a property for a Chinese and a Thai, who they thought were going to plant fruit. Keo Tha told the court that he reported the marijuana crop when it was discovered, but no action was taken.
“I reported to secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Em Sam An,” he said. “But he told me, ‘Please wait until the owner collects the crop, and then we will arrest them.’”
Em Sam An, and the three others who Keo Tha claims took bribes—Pol Saroeun, RCAF deputy commander in chief; Thong Lim, anti-narcotics chief at the Interior Ministry; and Keo Samuon, Military Region 3 commander—have all vehemently denied the allegations.
Ly Sou has said that he was aware of the marijuana for some time but was afraid to move against the plantation because it was under military protection.
Sou has said former Khmer Rouge commander, Lim Chhan, was protecting the crop. Lim Chhan, now RCAF deputy commander for Military Region 3, testified that he had known the area was being planted with marijuana fields for some time but denied he was involved.
He said he reported the operation to his superiors, but did not know why the crackdown was so long in coming.