Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted two Peruvians of drug trafficking on March 23 and sentenced them to five years in prison each for smuggling an unspecified amount of cocaine into Cambodia, officials said.
Presiding Judge Ke Sakhorn convicted Silvia Nelida Gomez Ramirez, 19, and her boyfriend Eduardo Rosales Ruiz, 27, and ordered them to pay fines of $2,500 each. The pair said in court that they had swallowed more than 160 small packages each in Peru before trying to make the trip to Thailand via Cambodia. They said they knew they were smuggling something illegal, but maintained that they had not known it was cocaine. The couple also said that they flew to Argentina, Malaysia and finally Cambodia, where they were arrested on Sept 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the US Drug Enforcement Administration provided assistance in an advisory role during the preliminary stages of the investigation, following a request by Cambodian authorities.
Ke Sakhorn said that he did not know the how many grams of cocaine were involved in the case, but said the pair were caught with 248 small packages.
Ramirez said that she had originally swallowed 168 packages containing 8 grams of cocaine each and Ruiz confessed to swallowing 164 packages each containing between 5 to 6 grams of cocaine. Some of the packages got lost along the way, Ramirez and Ruiz both said.
Ramirez also said she that had successfully smuggled cocaine into Chile last June for a fee of $1,000. “I did it because I needed the money for my studies,” she said.
Speaking in Spanish through a translator, they both claimed that Cambodian authorities took over $1,300 from them when they were arrested.
Moek Dara, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department, denied money was taken from the couple. “We never allow police to do that,” he said. “Sometimes [suspects] smash their own heads against the wall and say police beat them.”
He said he also did not know how much cocaine the couple had been carrying, but added that there were three arrests in 2006 involving cocaine and a total of 5 kg of the drug was confiscated.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh.)