Two foreign nationals were sentenced to life in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday for their involvement in an attempt to smuggle nearly 5 kg of cocaine into the country last year.
Adrian-Calin Varadi, 30, of Romania, and Chukwuemeka Ibe, 40, of Nigeria, were found guilty of transporting illegal drugs. Presiding Judge Im Vannak also fined the pair 40 million riel, or about $10,000, each.
The two were arrested in August after a tip from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which told officials at Phnom Penh International Airport to watch for a Romanian drug trafficker flying in from Brazil.
Mr. Varadi was caught with a suitcase stuffed with 4.96 kg of cocaine, and then led officers to a hotel where he had arranged to meet Mr. Ibe. When Mr. Ibe arrived, he was arrested. Police said at the time the haul had a market value of nearly $500,000.
During an April 25 hearing, Mr. Varadi initially denied knowing there were drugs inside the luggage, but under sustained questioning admitted to trafficking the drugs to solve his money problems. He said he had been in the Netherlands when he was told to go to Brazil to carry drugs to Cambodia. He said he was promised 500 euros, or about $545, to transport 1 kg of cocaine.
“I had no choice when I arrived in Brazil,” he said. “If I did not do it, I did not have money to return to Romania.”
Mr. Ibe, however, had told the court he believed the suitcase contained clothes. He said he was picking it up for a Nigerian man living in Thailand.
Mon Vimean Champa, the pair’s lawyer, argued the sentencing was too harsh. She said Mr. Varadi had already admitted his role and the court should consider mitigating circumstances “because he just committed [the crime] for the first time.”
Mr. Varadi had told the judge that he previously served four months in prison for theft, but did not say where or when.
Mr. Ibe, meanwhile, “did not know there were drugs inside,” Ms. Vimean Champa said.
Both men have one month to appeal the decision.