Authorities in Cambodia Monday arrested business tycoon Kith Theang in connection with a Feb. 23 drug raid at a Phnom Penh nightclub he owns.
In that raid, police found 50kg of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs and arrested more than 300 people at the Rock Entertainment Center, located in the city’s Chamkarmon district.
The police told RFA’s Khmer Service that the tycoon’s arrest is part of its investigation into the drug case.
“The Phnom Penh Police Commissioner enforced a court order in bringing Kith Theang for interrogation in connection with the case, because he’s the business owner,” said Neth Savoeun, Cambodia’s National Police Commissioner General.
”We are still conducting our investigation into the case and once it is done, we will inform the public of the results and findings in this case,” he said.
The commissioner general said that the tycoon is being held at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissariat, undergoing interrogation by police officers and court officials.
The high-profile case was national news, with even Prime Minister Hun Sen weighing in. He commented about the raid at a graduation ceremony just hours before Kith Theang’s arrest.
“I am really delighted that our police handled this case in a timely manner. They should have done it earlier,” said Hun Sen at the Royal University of Law and Economics, which is situated next to the nightclub.
“I hope that the interior ministry will take further measures and follow court procedures to get to the bottom of the case,” the prime minister said.
“We must take stringent [precautions] to prevent the return of such vagabond acts here. We must enforce serious punishment and seek the mastermind [behind this case] until the end. We have proof in hand that will only serve to aid us as we stop drug trafficking at its roots!” he said.
The arrest of Kith Theang, however, contradicts a denial by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who previously said that the drug raid had nothing to do with business tycoon Kith Meng, Kith Theang’s brother, and also the chairman of Cambodia’s Chamber of Commerce.
Sar Kheng on Feb. 27 said on his Facebook page that authorities, after completing the “suppression” of the drug ring, found “no evidence to confirm that this case is related with business tycoon Mr. Kith Meng.”
Experts say that Kith Theang’s arrest is politically motivated.
Political analyst Kim Sok pointed out that in his governmental role, Kith Meng is a proponent of political compromise on several issues, such as giving concessions so that Cambodia keeps its EBA (Everything but Arms) trade status with the EU. He is also in favor of the return from exile of Sam Rainsy, former leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The European Union is reviewing Cambodia’s preferential trade status in the wake of Hun Sen’s actions against the political opposition since 2017. The Hun Sen administration banned the CNRP in November 2017, two months after its then leader Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges.
“Since this [arrest] comes on direct order from Hun Sen, I think it relates mostly to power politics than it does to fighting drug [trafficking],” said Kim Sok.
“If this was really about drugs, then they wouldn’t have only gone after the Rock Center. They should go after all large-scale entertainment centers in Cambodia, because there are drugs at all of them,” he said.
“I think this is all about politics, an attempt to suppress an internal power struggle,” Kim Sok said.
Kim Sok further explained that Kith Meng maintains close relations with Sam Rainsy and has always supported the opposition party.
The Rock Entertainment Center lost its license following the drug raid and has been ordered closed by the city. Seventeen of the 311 who were briefly detained after the raid had to appear in court after authorities completed urine testing and gathering other evidence.
A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released Monday said that methamphetamine production has skyrocketed in Southeast Asia. As such, prices have dropped and more are using the drug.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by RFA's Khmer Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.