Venezuelan Drug Mule Busted Trafficking Cocaine-Filled Buttons

A Venezuelan woman was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday night after 1.7 kg of cocaine was found hidden inside large garment buttons stuffed in her suitcase.

Neilin Coromoto Mejias, 27, was caught after immigration officers scanned her suitcase and spotted an unusual amount of buttons stuffed under her clothes.

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Neilin Coromoto Mejias, left, after being arrested on Monday, and a pile of cocaine pellets that were hidden inside metal buttons, in photographs provided by police

Ms. Coromoto Mejias also aroused suspicion because she had originally come from Sao Paulo, Brazil—via Ethiopia and Bangkok—a common origin for drug traffickers, said In Song, an officer at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department.

“We suspected, so then we checked,” the suitcase, he said. “We found the buttons…. They were suspicious because they were big.”

Mr. Song said about 1.7 kg of cocaine had been retrieved from the buttons so far, but another 109 buttons would be unpacked today.

Ms. Coromoto Mejias is currently being detained at the anti-drug department, he said, and may be sent to the court today if police finish filing their report in time.

After a recent airport cocaine bust, anti-drug police said the current market price of the drug was about $100,000 per kilogram, making Monday’s haul worth over $170,000.

Phnom Penh was not Ms. Coromoto Mejias’ final destination in Cambodia, Mr. Song said. She was supposed to meet someone in Siem Reap province to hand over the drugs.

However, news coverage of the arrest foiled police attempts to locate and possibly arrest the intended recipient, who remains unidentified.

“There was someone waiting in Siem Reap to pick it up,” he said. “The operation continued, but because the information leaked, we couldn’t arrest that person.”

Mr. Song said the discovery was a rare occasion in which a major drug bust at a Cambodian airport had not been the direct result of a tip-off from an outside source, such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

As with previous cases, Mr. Song said he believed the drug traffickers chose Cambodia as a trafficking route due to its airports being known for lax security.

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