In the latest drug-related investigation to hit the police force, military police said yesterday they were hunting for a colonel in the national police suspected of being the leader of a drug-trafficking network.
Chea Sopheap, 41, a colonel in the Interior Ministry’s intervention unit, has been accused by three suspected drug traffickers of being a drug trafficking “ringleader,” according to Brigadier General Men Ra of the judicial and information department of the national military police.
The three suspected drug traffickers accused Col Sopheap of being involved in drug trafficking after they were arrested at a house in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district where police found 380 grams of methamphetamine on April 19, according to Brig Gen Ra, who is chief of anti-drug research.
He said yesterday that military police were currently hunting for Col Sopheap, who is also a former director of the Phnom Penh municipal anti-drug police bureau.
Brig Gen Ra said the three suspected drug traffickers had told police that Col Sopheap was “a ringleader of drug traffickers in Cambodia” and that he also allegedly carried out trafficking operations into Thailand and Vietnam.
Military police raided Col Sopheap’s house on Friday and found a small bag of methamphetamines, Brig Gen Ra said.
“We are searching for him…. I don’t know clearly where he has gone to,” Brig Gen Ra said yesterday. “We began to suspect him in March and then we found out that he is really a drug trafficker.”
He said the three suspected drug traffickers—Touch Darin, Ou Yavi and Vietnamese national Chhin Vang Yu—had been placed in provisional detention at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison.
“We put them in jail because we arrest them with obvious evidence.”
He offered no further details about the extent of Col Sopheap’s alleged drug-trafficking network.
Col Sopheap’s alleged indiscretions come after a long list of drug-related prosecutions high-ranking police officials.
In March, deputy municipal minor crime police chief Neang Sokna was charged with unintentional murder after he allegedly killed a police officer by poisoning his beer. Doctors reportedly told the victim’s father that they found an amphetamine-type stimulant in the dead officer’s urine.
In October, Touch Muysor, Phnom Penh’s anti-drug police chief, was charged and suspended from duty on suspicion of possessing amphetamine pills and accepting bribes from drug dealers in return for letting them go free.
In April 2008, an anti-human trafficking police officer, Kep Samon, shot five anti-drug police officers—killing two—after they conducted a drug raid at his guesthouse room in Phnom Penh.
In August 2007, an adviser to National Assembly President Heng Samrin reportedly jumped to his death from the second story of the anti-drug bureau at the Interior Ministry compound. At the time, the adviser, Oum Chhay, was in polic custody, having been arrested for allegedly aiding in the transportation of four tons of chemicals to what police described as a would-be drug laboratory in Kompong Speu province.
Despite the latest allegations made against Col Sopheap, Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the national police, said yesterday that he did not think police were heavily involved in the drug trade.
“No, I do not think that is the case,” Mr Chantharith said, adding that he had not yet been fully informed about the case involving Col Sopheap.
“There are many [drug] cases and very few police involved,” he said.
Mr Chantharith admitted that a few people may see the latest incident as reflecting badly on the police force as a whole but added that he believed officers would earn respect by catching those involved in serious crimes.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he was aware of the case and “was not concerned.”
“We welcome information from the public and other sources for cases like this,” he said.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor at the human-rights group Adhoc, said the allegations made against Col Sopheap would reflect poorly on the police.
“The government officials would lose their value due to this act,” Mr Soveth said yesterday, adding that the problem may have occurred because of low salaries within the police department.
“It may be caused by their low salary, so they have to take risks running a drug business to make more money,” he said.