Prime Minister Hun Sen warned students and government officials to stay away from drugs on Saturday, holding up the recent arrest of a general suspected of trafficking drugs as a warning to others.
“Stay away from drugs, from hanging out and flinging your motorbike. This is a major virus destroying our society,” he told students at the inauguration of a new school in Phnom Penh.
“The government is taking very serious action,” he said, “including a crackdown on a high-ranking official who has the rank of three-star general. Regardless of three stars, four stars or five, even the moon will be arrested.”
Mr Hun Sen’s remarks were apparently in reference to Lieutenant General Moek Dara, one of the country’s top narcotics police officers, who was charged with corruption offenses last week.
On Friday, Anticorruption Unit Chairman Om Yentieng said Mr Dara, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, had led a cartel of corrupt police who used their positions to extort money and traffic confiscated drugs.
Over the past month, the government has arrested several other senior police officials allegedly involved in what Mr Yentieng described as a network of police who routinely arrested drug offenders in Banteay Meanchey province, confiscated their drugs, extorted money for their release and then sold the confiscated drugs to other dealers.
The general was “extorting money in exchange for not making arrests,” Mr Yentieng said.
ACU officials detained Mr Dara on Jan 12. That day, they also detained Lieutenant Colonel Chea Leng, also an anti-drug official. On Jan 17, Banteay Meanchey provincial court charged the pair with corruption.
As part of the same investigation, the court on Jan 14 charged former Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean and his deputy, Chheang Son, with extortion.
During a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Friday, Mr Hun Sen warned officials to steer clear of other transgressions as well.
According to a government statement, the premier “reminded government officials whether they are involved with corruption, drugs, land grabbing or deforestation—even those who claim they are honest with the CPP—they have to immediately stop acting this way in order to avoid legal action.”
Yesterday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the premier also warned officials to stop using their government positions and ties to the ruling CPP as leverage.
“He told everyone not to use the pretext of being close to leaders and having done something for the CPP to do bad things,” he said.
“We sent out a signal,” he said of the recent spate of arrests. “In a state under the rule of law, you cannot just do as you want.”
Mr Siphan also rejected suggestions that the arrests were a political attack on any particular faction within the CPP, notably any under Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Mr Hean was once Mr Kheng’s chief bodyguard. Mr Dara is a former police chief from Battambang province, long considered Mr Kheng’s base of support.
“Some people say it is because they are under the Ministry of Interior and connected to Minister Sar Kheng. This accusation is wrong,” Mr Siphan said.
“They are troublemakers, not troubleshooters,” he said. “They do it for their own interest.”
Earlier this month, Mr Kheng also dismissed the idea that he was linked to the ACU’s targets by factional affiliation.
Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha said it was too early to pass judgment on the ACU’s latest actions but remained skeptical.
“We have to wait and see if those who have been arrested will be released later,” he said.