Thai Intel May Have Helped Drug Case, Official Says

An official at the National Authority for Combating Drugs said yesterday that Thai law enforcement agencies had provided information that may have contributed to Cambodia’s largest-ever seizure of smuggled medicine.

But officials remained unable to provide information on the scope of the yearlong investigation that led to the haul of 13 million smuggled pills and the arrest of one suspect in Banteay Meanchey province.

Meas Vyrith, chief of narcotic laboratory at the NACD, said he thought Sunday’s seizure was connected to an incident in August last year when Thai officials told the NACD of an attempt to import the same medicine illegally as that was seized on Sunday in Poipet commune. The pills, manufactured by Korean firm Cho-A Pharm Co, contain pseudoephedrine, a precursor for methamphetamine.

But Mr Vyrith could not confirm that the Thai tip-off that prompted the NACD’s yearlong surveillance of An Pheakdey, the 35-year-old warehouse owner who is currently the only person arrested in the case.

NACD Secretary-general Moek Dara declined to confirm details of the past year’s surveillance, citing the ongoing investigation, but said authorities were looking for further suspects.

“We are researching to find a big group who are involved in medicine smuggling,” he said.

Mr Pheakdey was charged yesterday with transporting ingredients for drug manufacturing and placed in provisional detention at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison, deputy prosecutor Tan Sihak Dechak said. The offense carries a prison term of five to 10 years and a fines of 10 to 50 million riel, or between $2,500 and $12,500.

Customs officer Chuob En said yesterday that he charged Mr Pheakdey 15 million riel, or about $3,750, in import duty, instead of the usual rate of 2 to 3 million riel, because he had run out of tax receipts. Mr En said he did not check the contents of the boxes because he did not have time.

“We were busy looking at other things,” he said.

Mr Vyrith admitted yesterday that it seemed likely that Mr Pheakdey was a member of a larger drug trafficking group but defended the decision to arrest the suspect instead of continuing to track him in Cambodia.

“The syndicate usually nominates one person to do something and then they hide behind,” he said. “Now the police can question him and ask him to cooperate with law enforcement and tell the truth.”

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