Teddy Bear Drug Smuggler Denies Charges During Trial

A year after a Vietnamese man was caught trying to mail teddy bears stuffed with the drug precursor chemical pseudoephedrine to Australia from Phnom Penh, he appeared in court on Tuesday over another alleged drug smuggling scheme.

Van Vay, 47, was arrested in January 2014 over an attempt to mail to Australia five large bears filled with 12 kg of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant which is commonly used to make methamphetamine.

One month later, 38 towels soaked in what police said at the time was Ketamine—a tranquilizer and a popular illicit party drug—were found wrapped in plastic in an apartment he shared with 30-year-old Le Vi Lam, who is being sought by police but remains at large.

“[W]e got a tip from a police agent that Van Vay called Le Vi Lam while detained in prison to take the towels away from the condo in Tuol Kok district and promised to give him $3,000,” Chhouk Kea, an official in the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug trafficking department, told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.

Lieutenant Colonel Kea said that after police seized the towels, they found they were soaked in pseudoephedrine.

“After the drug examination, we confirmed that drug ingredient powder was soaked into the towels,” Mr. Kea said.

Cambodian authorities initially arrested Mr. Vay following a tip-off by Australian Federal Police, who informed them that six boxes of teddy bears filled with about 80 kg of pseudoephedrine had already arrived in the country in late 2014.

Appearing in court Tuesday on charges of storing and smuggling drugs in relation to the seized towels, Mr. Vay denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not own the towels and was also not a signatory to the apartment’s lease.

“I did not commit [the crime],” Mr. Vay said. “The house was leased by [Mr.] Lam and I was a witness to the renting contract.”

A court clerk read out a statement from the owner of the house, who said Mr. Van “rarely came to visit” the property. Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng said the verdict would be announced on March 13.

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