Police and municipal prosecutors spent Monday questioning 14 suspects arrested in connection with last Wednesday’s record heroin bust.
However, even as police continued their crackdown on what government officials are calling the largest drug-smuggling ring discovered in Cambodia, a Phnom Penh judge handed the nation’s highest-ranking drug offender a slap on the wrist.
Sources in the Tuol Kok district Police Department say
14 suspects from last week’s arrests were brought in for questioning Monday, including seven Cambodians, six Taiwanese nationals and one of unconfirmed nationality.
The investigation began last Wednesday with the arrest of four Cambodian suspects.
When one of the suspect’s residence was searched, approximately 40 kg of heroin and amphetamines were found in concealed panels in the walls and floor.
The owner of the house, Lim Samnang—also known as Lim Sambath, Chea Sim or Som Pao—was identified last week as a ranking member of the intelligence department of the Ministry of Defense by Deputy Municipal Prosecutor Sok Roeun.
Although General Mol Roeup, head of the Ministry of Defense’s intelligence department, has denied that Lim Samnang is currently affiliated with his department, Tuol Kok police said Monday they had his ministry identification card as evidence.
Last week, the deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Khieu Sopheak, said,“We have to take action…no matter what the rank” of the offender.
According to police, two other suspects, Lon Chetra and Seng Eng Ny, work in the Defense Ministry. The two were arrested Friday on suspicion of looting the crime scene.
Police said they may not be connected to the drug ring.
Also Friday, Taiwanese national Lee Chung Foo and Cambodian Hang Dara were arrested in the Tuol Svay Prey commune. Another five Taiwanese suspects were arrested on Saturday, and a 14th suspect of uncertain nationality was brought in early Monday, police said.
Sok Roeun said Monday evening that he had finished questioning the suspects, and that he believes that seven are involved in drug smuggling.
Meanwhile on Monday, Cambodia’s highest-ranking drug offender, former government official Tep Sumphan, was fined 10 million riel, or about $2,500.
Presiding Judge Tan Senarong handed down the fine, saying he imposed only a light punishment because the arrest was made irregularly.
In March, Tep Sumphan, 48, a member of a government human rights committee with a rank equivalent to undersecretary of state, was arrested in possession of almost 4,000 pills of methamphetamine, or yaba, and a kilogram of heroin.
The street value of those drugs could be almost $20,000 at local prices.
Keo Ya, lawyer for Tep Sumphan, said that although “the punishment is small,” it is still improper because it indicates his client is guilty when there was not proper evidence.
Graham Shaw of the UN Office of Drugs Control and Crime Prevention said that there have been concerns for a long time about the sometimes lenient sentences for drug offenders under Cambodian law.
(Additional reporting by Nicholas Seeley)