Trio Gets Heavy Sentences for Heroin Smuggling

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday sentenced a trio of drug smugglers to between 20 and 30 years in prison for attempting to smuggle less than half a kilogram of heroin to Australia in 2014.

Singaporean national Chua Hwee Kiat, 50, was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport in November 2014 while attempting to board a flight to Australia with 84 grams of heroin concealed inside a chocolate bar wrapper. Tan Chi Keng, a 57-year-old Belgian-Cambodian, was arrested the same day at a Phnom Penh money exchange and later gave up 254 grams of heroin he had hidden inside his home. Cambodian Muth Bunnath, 50, was arrested in Phnom Penh in July.

On Thursday, after ruling all three guilty of drug trafficking, Presiding Judge Kor Vandy announced the court’s decision to sentence Mr. Hwee Kiat and Mr. Chi Keng to 30 years in prison and Ms. Bunnath to 20 years.

Mr. Chi Keng’s lawyer, Ho Lyhow, said the sentence was unreasonably harsh.

“The judge did not thoroughly consider the evidence and he did not consider the surrounding circumstances that lead to the crime,” he said. “I have rarely seen a judge give the maximum sentence like this. [Mr. Chi Keng] is nearly 60 years old now and sentencing him to 30 years is like making him die in prison.”

Mr. Hwee Kiat’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, and Ms. Bunnath’s lawyer, Pum Vichet, declined to comment.

During their trial on Wednesday, Mr. Hwee Kiat and Mr. Chi Keng each said they were offered $5,000 dollars to deliver what they were told was—and believed to be—some sort of energy boosting medicine.

Mr. Chi Keng also told the court that Mr. Hwee Kiat had attempted to hide his share of drugs up his rectum, but failed and opted for his pocket instead.

Ms. Bunnath told the court that she had obtained the drugs from a woman named Sun Sophal, who is currently serving a 27-year sentence for another drug trafficking conviction, and passed them on to Mr. Chi Keng and Mr. Hwee Kiat.

Ms. Bunnath said she knew she was committing a crime but did it anyway because she needed the money to pay for medical care for her son, who has cancer.

After announcing the verdict and sentences on Thursday, Judge Vandy instructed the prosecution to open a new case into Ms. Sophal.

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