Tourist Police Officer Denies Knowledge of Massive Drug Haul

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday heard the case of an Interior Ministry police officer charged with storing and transporting 34 tons of precursor chemicals and equipment used for making methamphetamine.

Kompong Speu provincial military police raided a pig farm on July 3 in the province’s Phnom Sruoch district after villagers complained of a strong smell in the area. They found a massive haul of hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide—both of which are used in the production of methamphetamine—as well as some 100 bags of an unidentified white and yellow powder, which appeared to have been dumped.

The suspect, Kang Sovanndara, 47, deputy bureau chief of the tourist police in the Interior Ministry’s department of tourism, was arrested in Phnom Penh at the National Police headquarters on July 14. He was subsequently charged with the illegal storage and transportation of chemical substances, as well as possession of equipment that can produce drugs.

“I cannot accept what they charged me with because I didn’t know what was inside the [plastic barrel] containers,” Mr. Sovanndara told the court Thursday, adding that he believed that soy sauce was being stored at the farm.

Mr. Sovanndara told the court he rented the pig farm at the behest of a Chinese-Canadian man—identified only as Nian Kang Ta—who had agreed to pay him to export soy sauce to Canada through the ports of Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.

When asked why he had discarded large quantities of the two acids, which had been poured into ditches around the pig farm, Mr. Sovanndara said he had dumped the chemicals in re­venge for not being paid by his Chinese-Canadian partner.

“I ordered the workers to pour it out because I didn’t get my commission of $12,000,” he told the court.

San Sothy, bureau chief of the anti-money laundering and anti-drug department at the Interior Ministry, told the court that Mr. Sovanndara was fully aware of the plan to transport the precursor chemicals to Canada disguised as soy sauce.

“After the pig farm was raided, Mr. Sovanndara fled to Vietnam,” Mr. Sothy told the court. “We have email correspondence between the Chinese-Canadian and the suspect,” he said.

“We have confiscated a total of 34 tons of chemical substances and we are still investigating to arrest suspects who are still at large,” Mr. Sothy added.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said the fact that Mr. Sovanndara tried to discard of the chemicals showed he knew of their illegal nature.

Cheat Sokha, Mr. Sovanndara’s lawyer, denied her client had any knowledge that the chemicals were illegal.

A verdict will be announced on May 30, presiding Judge Chaing Sinath said.

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