A year-long police investigation in Banteay Meanchey province netted nearly 13 million smuggled pills on Sunday which police said contained the drug pseudoephedrine, a precursor for methamphetamine. But only one suspect was arrested, officials said yesterday.
Provincial police chief Hun Hean said the raid on a Poipet commune warehouse represented the country’s largest ever seizure of smuggled medicine.
“We have found 48 boxes of smuggled medicine and confiscated about 12,850,000 pills…of flu medicine,” said Mr Hean.
The pills contain the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, which is used in some countries as an over-the-counter decongestant but can be used to manufacture the illegal drug methamphetamine.
During Sunday’s raid, police arrested An Pheakdey, 35, who had been under surveillance by the National Authority for Combating Drugs for a year, Mr Hean said, adding that police acted on a tip from Moek Dara, director-general of the NACD.
Asked why the NACD had been observing Mr Pheakdey for a year, Mr Hean said the suspect “was suspicious.” He was unable to discuss further details of the case due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. Mr Dara referred all questions back to Mr Hean.
NACD Deputy Secretary-General Meas Vyrith said authorities were seeking to determine whether Mr Pheakdey had worked alone.
“Police are investigating who are the accomplices,” said Mr Vyrith. A spokesman for the national police, Kirth Chantharith, said he was too busy to comment on the case.
Chhum Vannarith, director of the provincial health department, estimated that the medicine could be used to make 2 to 3 million tablets of amphetamine. Graham Shaw, a technical officer at the World Health Organization, said it was important to consider who was behind an operation of this scale.
“That’s the question: Who are the big fish?” he said. “I think it indicates that [drug production] is still a major problem.”
David Harding, technical adviser for drug programs at the NGO Friends International, said that in the past eleven years he has seen Cambodia’s drug problem grow from almost non-existent to “endemic” and that this was largely due to increased local drug manufacturing.
“When you can sell drugs for anywhere from six to 20 times as much in the West, you’re not going to target Cambodia as a market,” he explained. “The fact that there are now 500,000 drug users in a population of 13.5 million suggests that the trafficking and production of drugs here is hugely increased.”
The seizure is the largest since almost four tons of amphetamine precursor chemicals were seized from a Kompong Speu laboratory in 2007.