Man Nabbed Mailing Drug-Stuffed Teddy Bears

Police arrested a Vietnamese man on Tuesday as he attempted to post five large teddy bears stuffed with more than 12 kg of pseudoephedrine, a drug precursor chemical, from Phnom Penh to Australia.

Van Vay, 46, was nabbed after staff at the Chbar Ampov Post Office in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district became suspicious of the surprisingly heavy weight of the furry toys.

“When staff at the post office picked up the bears, it was very obvious that these were not the same bears that children use,” said Lieutenant General Meas Vyrith, president of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD).

“The bears contained more than 12 kg of pseudoephedrine and it could be used to produce about 8.5 kg of methamphetamine,” he said.

While the teddy bears cost just a few dollars, the methamphetamine would have been worth about $850,000, at street prices, Lt. Gen. Vyrith said.

The NACD had been on the lookout for large quantities of stuffed children’s toys being sent through the mail, Lt. Gen. Vyrith added.

Cambodian authorities had been tipped off by the Australian Federal Police that six boxes of teddy bears, weighing a hefty 72.9 kg and stuffed with drugs, had reached Australia from Cambodia via the postal service since December 19.

“Packaged drugs sent by post is old style, but it is a new tactic to put drugs in toys and send them by post,” said Lieutenant Colonel In Song, deputy chief of the at the Ministry of Interior’s anti-drug department.

Teddy bears are just the latest guise for international drug smuggling as anti-drug police have in recent years fought to keep up with traffickers who have identified the Cambodian postal system as a weak point for enforcement.

In December 2012, a former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier and a Vietnamese woman were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Central Post Office after attempting to post to Australia a package containing 600 sachets labeled “Korean Red Ginseng Tonic.”

Analysis showed that the substance inside the sachets contained heroin; the pair were sentenced to life in prison.

In April the same year, police in Melbourne, arrested two Cambodians and seized 65 kg of a liquid which was inside small sachets labeled as hair dye, and was later found to contain heroin.

“They [traffickers] will always try to change their tactics,” Lt. Gen. Vyrith of the NACD said. “Even when they sleep, [drug-traffickers] are thinking of new methods to send drugs from Cambodia to other countries,” he said.

“But our police and the staff at the post offices are now trained to look for suspicious packages that may not be what they appear,” he said, referring to the teddy bear caper.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior and deputy secretary-general of the NACD, said Wednesday that he was not aware of the teddy bear smuggling case, but said that the creativity of the accused did not surprise him.

“Oh, they have been doing this for a long time. Now it is in children’s toys, 15 years ago we were finding cases of the drugs hidden inside fishes’ stomachs.”

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