A Vietnamese man was arrested at the Siem Reap International Airport on Thursday after collecting a keyboard that had arrived on a flight from Kuala Lumpur with 5.25 kg of cocaine concealed inside, police said on Friday.
Customs officials were on high alert after receiving an unspecific tip from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, police said, and became suspicious of Le Vandang, aged in his 60s, after seeing him retrieve his airmailed instrument.
“Customs and inspection officials at the airport suspected the piano because it looked unusually heavy while the suspect was holding it so they inspected it, found the drugs and arrested him immediately,” said Oum Amara, deputy Siem Reap provincial police chief.
Mr. Amara said that the suspect had previously spent some 10 years in a Vietnamese prison for dealing heroin and confessed Thursday to being involved a plot to smuggle the cocaine through Bavet City in Svay Rieng province to Ho Chi Minh City, where it would be sold through a close acquaintance.
The officer said the cocaine had been sourced in Ecuador and come to Siem Reap via Brazil, Qatar and Kuala Lumpur.
“The suspect brought the cocaine through several countries before coming to Cambodia, and he had planned to take it to his adopted son in Vietnam who is a suspected drug dealer,” he said, adding that the suspect had arrived in Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, while the piano arrived the following day.
Mr. Amara said that the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh had been informed of the arrest and that the suspect would be sent to the Siem Reap Provincial Court today.
At the annual meeting of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) in April, Interior Minister Sar Kheng urged anti-drug police across the country to refocus their efforts on identifying and apprehending criminals at the top of drug syndicates, rather than their foot soldiers.
Contacted yesterday, Lieutenant General Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the NACD, said that any opportunity to track down the kingpins behind the latest bust may have been lost with the emergence of news reports about it.
“We need to control the information in order to catch the big fish,” Lt. Gen. Vyrith said, adding that the cocaine had originated in Colombia and was “crack cocaine,” which had not often been uncovered in busts in the country.
“It is a strange case for Cambodia. This is crack cocaine, for smoking, not for sniffing,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Vyrith said that Siem Reap International Airport was a popular transit point among drug traffickers, who often planned their movements to coincide with public holidays, such as the Khmer New Year.
“They think that Siem Reap airport is a weak point, they think they can just pass through,” he said. “But they can’t, we know their tactics.”