Authorities in Phnom Penh on Wednesday raided two warehouses, finding that their owner was mixing low-grade cane sugar with an illegal chemical substance in order to make it appear as if it were more expensive palm sugar, officials said on Thursday.
Interior Ministry police cooperated with officers from the government’s trade regulation body, Camcontrol, in the operation on the two warehouse facilities in Tuol Kok district’s Boeng Salang commune, according to Long Sreng, deputy director of the anti-economic crime department.
“Yesterday, we cracked down on warehouses that produced ‘palm sugar’ by mixing fourth-grade cane sugar with sodium hydrosulfite,” Mr. Sreng said.
“We found nearly 5 tons of illegal ‘palm sugar’ in the first location,” he said, adding that police then arrested the owner—Chroy Sok, 33 —who subsequently gave up the location of the second storage facility.
He said that at the second location, authorities confiscated more than 30 tons of various chemical substances—1 ton of which was discovered to be sodium hydrosulfite, while the rest were still unknown.
Mr. Sreng said his department had investigated Mr. Sok for a month after suspicions by authorities over the amount of palm juice for sale in Phnom Penh’s markets prompted a closer look at the city’s producers.
“We wondered about his warehouses,” he said. “We never saw him buy palm juice, so how can he produce palm sugar?”
While cane sugar fetches about 2,000 riel (about $0.50) per kilogram, according to Mr. Sreng, the fake palm sugar made by Mr. Sok retailed at 5,000 riel (about $1.25) per kilogram.
Mr. Sreng added that Mr. Sok, who he said had operated the two facilities for nearly 10 years, had been questioned on Thursday at the anti-economic crime department and would be sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today.
“This chemical is banned from use in food because it can cause serious health effects. It affects breathing and blood pressure, and if you consume too much you could lose your life,” he said.
According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, oral consumption of sodium hydrosulfite can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and gastric hemorrhage.