The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday handed down jail sentences of between 23 and 27 years to five foreign nationals accused of working together to smuggle 2.2 kg of heroin from Cambodia to Australia.
The suspects include three Nigerian men, two of whom are on the run and were tried in absentia, as well as a Frenchwoman and an Australian woman. The five convicts were also fined between $12,500 and $20,000 each, Presiding Judge Kor Vandy said.
French citizen Charlene Savarino, 19, and Australian national Yoshe Ann Taylor, 41, were arrested in September at Phnom Penh International Airport with the heroin hidden in a backpack being carried by Ms. Taylor.
Nigerian Precious Chineme Nwoko, 23, was arrested later the same day, with police calling him the ringleader of the drug- smuggling operation. Two other Nigerian men, named by the court only as Mr. Anto and Mr. Ashita, escaped arrest and remain at large.
Judge Vandy sentenced both men to 27 years in jail along with Mr. Nwoko. Ms. Savarino was given 25 years, and Ms. Taylor was sentenced to 23 years.
“The court sentenced you after finding you guilty, and you have a right to appeal if you do not accept this conviction,” Judge Vandy told the trio in court. After the verdict was announced, Ms. Taylor began to weep.
Police said in September that Mr. Nwoko and Ms. Savarino had worked together to package drugs that Ms. Taylor would then take back to Australia. During their trial last month, both Ms. Taylor and Ms. Savarino professed their innocence, saying they had agreed to carry it after being asked by Mr. Nwoko, who was Ms. Savarino’s boyfriend, but that they did not know the backpack contained drugs.
Outside the court Wednesday, Heng Pheng, a lawyer for Mr. Nwoko, avowed his client’s innocence and said the bag of heroin had actually belonged to Mr. Anto and Mr. Ashita.
“This is an unacceptable conviction, because the court did not find the drugs with my client, Mr. Precious Chineme,” Mr. Pheng said.
“Police arrested my client in his rental [house] in Chamkar Mon district, but they did not find drugs with him.”
He said Mr. Nwoko would appeal the sentence.