The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced a former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) colonel and a Vietnamese woman to life in prison for attempting to send heroin to Australia in the mail.
Former RCAF infantry Colonel Suo Sarith, 54, and Nguyen Nuhanh, 44, were arrested at Phnom Penh’s central post office on December 21 when they tried to mail a parcel containing about 600 small packets labeled as the popular “Korean Red Ginseng Tonic.”
Police, acting on an anonymous tipoff, intercepted the package, which turned out to contain a substance mixed with heroin. Authorities have said there was 12 kg of heroin in the package, which would have been worth millions of dollars in Australia.
“The court found them guilty of smuggling and possessing drugs and the suspects have one month to appeal,” Judge Suos Sam Ath announced Wednesday, adding that the court had given both defendants life sentences and fines of 80 million riel, or about $20,000.
During the trial, both defendants claimed they were innocent.
Mr. Sarin, still an RCAF soldier at the time of his arrest, claimed that he was only working as a driver and translator for the Vietnamese woman and had no idea that the package she was attempting to send was illicit.
Ms. Nuhanh in turn claimed that she was also unaware the parcel contained heroin and said she was only working for another man known as Chhun Chida, who had given her orders to send it.
May Vanna, defense lawyer for Mr. Sarith and Ms. Nuhanh, said the court had failed to investigate the claim that a third party was involved.
“I think this conviction is not right because I requested that the judge re-investigate, but the court did not,” Mr. Vanna said.
He said he had not yet spoken with his clients to decide if they would appeal the conviction.
The case mirrored another in April 2012 when Australian authorities arrested and charged two Cambodians in Melbourne over about 65 kg of a substance containing heroin, disguised in sachets proclaiming to contain hair dye.