More than $33,000 worth of safrole oil—an illicit chemical that can be used to produce the drug ecstasy—was found buried in two Pursat province backyards Monday and Sunday, police said.
After a monthlong investigation, police on Sunday discovered 38 containers of safrole oil—called m’reas prov in Khmer after the name of the tree it is distilled from —in Veal Veng district’s Anlong Reap commune. Another 72 containers were found Monday, buried on a separate property just 600 meters away.
Each container contained between 30 and 35 liters of the oil, according to police.
“The investigation took so long —more than a month,” said Theang Leng, Veal Veng district police chief.
“[The containers of oil] were buried 70 centimeters beneath the soil and had been covered with cow manure and arum [trees] to hide them from the police’s eyes,” he said.
Mr. Leng said that Men Chan, 21, the owner of the first house, had told police that his former boss—identified only by his given name, Som, aged about 30 and a native of Kompong Chhnang province—was the owner of the substance.
Mr. Chan was not arrested because “he provided information to police,” Mr. Leng added.
The owner of the second house, who has not been identified, also claimed that the oil buried in his yard did not belong to him and was not arrested.
“The owner [of the second house] said he does not know anything [about the oil] but I think they know about it,” Mr. Leng said, declining to explain why the man was not arrested.
Pursat and its neighboring provinces are rich in m’reas prov trees. In 2009, the military used land mines to destroy 10 laboratories that were found to be distilling the liquid in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cardamom Mountains.
In 2012, police made a number of busts in an effort to wipe out the illicit production and trade of safrole oil, which was also used as an additive in foods before being blacklisted in much of the Western world after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that it was carcinogenic.
Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the National Authority on Combating Drugs, said Monday that safrole oil was mostly exported to neighboring countries where ecstasy is produced.
He also said that this was the first case “in a long time” that a cache of m’reas prov has been found.
“In the past, it cost $10 a liter. I do not know the price of it now,” Mr. Vyrith said.