The surprise removal of the Interior Ministry’s top anti-narcotics police chief, Pich Chivorn, over alleged poor job performance stumped officials at the UN anti-drug office in Phnom Penh on Monday, who said the jilted police chief’s work had been commendable.
Pich Chivorn’s two-year tenure as the country’s most senior anti-drug cop came to an abrupt halt on Monday following a removal ceremony at the Interior Ministry.
“The replacement is due to my colleagues who have complained to the Ministry of Interior that I was not very active in my work,” Pich Chivorn said by telephone.
“I am very happy to respect the government’s decision. But during my time in the post I worked hard since being made chief of anti-drug polices,” he said.
Pich Chivorn was removed by a government subdecree and replaced by police General Vann Nay, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister and co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
A senior international anti-narcotics official recently expressed satisfaction with Pich Chivorn’s work despite, he said, difficulties in cracking down on drug trafficking in Cambodia, where alleged links between drug syndicates and powerful officials place severe limitations on law enforcement.
The Bangkok-based official said his organization was under no illusions regarding Pich Chivorn’s ability to stop the country’s well-organized drug gangs.
But the police chief had at least displayed interest in the work and was an official with whom they could communicate frankly about the situation in Cambodia.
“It was a surprise he was removed so quickly,” said Graham Shaw, a program officer at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Phnom Penh. “Pich Chivorn appears to have done a reasonable job under difficult circumstance.” Shaw added that no one at the UN office thought he had performed poorly.
“If it was poor performance, then it was news to us,” he said.
One senior anti-narcotics official said there were reports Pich Chivorn was doing too effective a job rather than a poor job, and had stepped on powerful toes in recent drug-trafficking investigations.
However, an anti-narcotics police official said Monday that officers under Pich Chivorn’s command had signed a petition and complained they had not received their monthly expenses from the police chief.
Pich Chivorn’s removal could be seen as another black spot on Cambodia’s efforts to stem the flow of methamphetamines into the country’s burgeoning local market, as well as the flow of opium and heroin through Cambodia, bound for international markets. Last year then-secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs, Em Sam An, was removed after his personal assistant was caught with a haul of methamphetamines.