Three marijuana traffickers who claimed minor roles in a multinational syndicate, and an alleged Thai mastermind who remains on the run were slapped with life sentences as the government intensifies its crackdown on drug-related crimes.
Three Cambodians were arrested in Phnom Penh last year in a sting operation that netted almost 1.5 tons of marijuana allegedly worth more than $7 million. Police said the drugs had been bought in Laos, hidden in shipments of coffee and moved to a Phnom Penh warehouse en route to a third country.
Reading out the verdicts at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, Presiding Judge Y Thavrak appeared unmoved by the Cambodian defendants’ arguments that they were low-level workers for two foreigners, who remain at large.
“The court has decided to sentence Vit Saing, Suon Pheakdey, Som Dara, and Thai national Sarakun Adul to life in prison for illegal drug production, illegal drug possession and drug smuggling,” he said.
During testimony earlier this month, Mr. Saing, who arranged for the transportation of the drugs to Cambodia, and Mr. Dara, who stood accused of purchasing the drugs in Laos, but claimed to be a mere translator, said that their fugitive Thai counterpart, Mr. Adul, and a fifth man identified only as “Mr. James” had masterminded the plan.
Mr. Saing voiced the same refrain on Wednesday as he was escorted away from the courtroom.
“It is very unjust because I am just a worker,” he said.
Lawyers for the men said they were not sure whether their clients would appeal.
The government has promised to step up drug enforcement, education and rehabilitation programs in the new year as the number of reported drug users jumped 30 percent this year compared to last year.
San Sothy, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug trafficking department, said he supported the severe verdicts in light of the stepped-up enforcement.
“Drugs seriously damage people’s health, so we cannot reduce the sentences on drug crimes,” he said.