Three Cambodian men accused of trafficking almost 1.5 tons of marijuana through Cambodia from Laos downplayed their involvement in the smuggling on Friday, passing the buck onto two foreigners who remain at large.
When the men were arrested in Phnom Penh last year in a sting operation, police said the drugs had been purchased in Laos, hidden in coffee and moved to a Phnom Penh warehouse en route to a third country where it would fetch $7 million.
But in their testimonies at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, the three cast themselves as mere lackeys for a fourth, a Thai man named Sarakun Adul, or “Mr. Noy,” who is being tried in absentia, and a foreigner they knew only as “Mr. James.”
“The marijuana belonged to Mr. Noy, and Mr. James is a person who bought the marijuana from Mr. Noy,” said defendant Vit Saing, 48.
Mr. Saing said he was offered a job arranging the transport of what he initially was told was Laotian coffee to Phnom Penh by Som Dara, 38. Police accused Mr. Dara of buying the marijuana using funds from abroad and coordinating the plan, but Mr. Saing testified that his colleague was simply acting as a translator for the two foreigners.
Mr. Saing admitted to receiving $600 for transporting the “coffee,” which he eventually realized was marijuana, but claimed he was a small fry in a larger operation.
“I worked under their orders, because I am just an employee,” he said, adding that any statement he had made to police inculpating Mr. Dara had been made under duress.
Mr. Dara claimed to have backed out of the scheme as soon as he realized that Mr. James and Mr. Noy were involved in drug trafficking.
“I made a mistake when I found out about the marijuana and did not file a complaint to police,” Mr. Dara said. “I don’t stand by my answers at the police station because police threatened me to get those responses.”
Saryboth Sathya, a bureau police chief at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug trafficking department, told the court that his officers had used a sting operation to buy 300 kg of marijuana from Mr. Saing and another defendant, 33-year-old Suon Pheakdey.
The pair led Mr. Sathya to a warehouse where Mr. Pheakdey had been guarding 1,487 kg of marijuana and 1.5 kg of cannabis oil, according to Mr. Sathya.
The charges carry a penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment. The verdict is to be announced December 28.
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