A court in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province Wednesday sent two former senior anti-drug officers to life in prison and their aide to 25 years imprisonment after finding them guilty of corruption and drug running, in what is seen as a harsh punishment for the offenses.
The court also ordered the seizure of all assets of Meuk Dara, the former secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Chea Leng, a former director of the anti-drug department at the Ministry of Interior, and Mon Doeun, the aide to Meuk Dara.
Meuk Dara and Chea Leng both received life sentences for accepting bribes and drug trafficking while Mon Doeun was sentenced in absentia to 25 years in jail.
Presiding Judge Ith Samphors said the two senior ranking men had refused to cooperate and had denied the charges against them.
The judge said Meuk Dara had accumulated some U.S. $80,000 in a local bank and had spent about U.S. $10,000 renovating his home. He said the former secretary-general also owns properties in two provinces.
After the verdict was announced, Meuk Dara told reporters outside the courtroom that he was not involved in drug trafficking and that he had been framed, saying he would appeal against the court decision.
“I was surprised the court sentenced me to life in jail using Article 34 of the Drug Law,” he said. “I am sad the court accused me of masterminding a drug ring when I never had any drugs, not even a pill.”
“I have never consciously harbored any idea or taken part in any activity related to drug trafficking.”
“I am sure I was framed by drug dealers. I denied it, but the court didn’t believe me."
His lawyer, Ray BunThoeun, said that the court failed to produce sufficient evidence against his client during the trial, adding that the punishment was “even harsher than the sentence handed to Duch,” a former Khmer Rouge prison chief who in 2010 was handed 30 years in jail for overseeing the deaths of thousands of people.
Sum Chankea, a coordinator for Cambodian rights group ADHOC who monitored the trial, said the three convicts received particularly harsh punishments.
He said more people could have been involved in the case.
“For such a large drug deal, more than three people must have been involved,” he said.
Focus on trafficking
The harsh sentences came as Cambodia’s anti-narcotics task force intensifies a crackdown on internal corruption and booming trade in stimulants across the Mekong region.
In November, Cambodian authorities arrested two military generals linked to a “major” drug trafficking ring. Lay Virak and Khun Rouen, both active duty two-star generals who also work as advisors within the defense ministry, were detained while exchanging nearly 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant.
At the time, National police spokesman General Kirth Chantharith said police had “more than doubled our efforts” to suppress drug trafficking after the arrest of Meuk Dara in January last year.
And on Saturday, state-run media in Vietnam confirmed that a court in Ho Chi Minh city sentenced five people to death for trafficking seven kilograms (15 pounds) of heroin across the border from Cambodia.
Three others received life imprisonment on the same charges, while six other defendants were handed jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years.
Speed on the rise
Cambodia became a popular trafficking point for methamphetamine and other narcotics after neighboring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.
In four countries of the Greater Mekong subregion—Laos, Burma, Thailand, and China—there was a four-fold increase in methamphetamine pills seized—from 32 million to 133 million—in just three years between 2008-2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Reported by Sophalmony Soun for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.