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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Middleman’ points to narcotics trade between Cambodia, China

‘Middleman’ points to narcotics trade between Cambodia, China

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Korng Sovanntara, a suspect in a high-profile drug case, covers his face while leaving Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

A “middleman” who drug enforcement authorities say is connected to recently seized shipping containers that stored drug-manufacturing equipment and 19 tonnes of known precursor chemicals for the production of illicit narcotics, spent yesterday answering questions before a judge.

The suspect, Korng Sovanntara, 47, was arrested in Phnom Penh on Saturday.

Major General Khieuv Samorn, head of the anti-drug unit at the Ministry of Interior, said Sovanntara admitted that he acted as a middleman.

He was, Samorn said, in charge of maintaining a location to hide and transfer equipment and chemical substances once they arrived in shipping containers from China.

Samorn said the containers, seized at ports in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville over the weekend, were destined for the same farm in Kampong Speu province where police earlier this month found chemicals needed for drug production.

The trips from the ports to the province had been made before, according to Samorn.

“The suspect testified he unloaded amounts of chemical substances and equipment for drug production from the container in Phnom Penh port to spread onto roughly five hectares of land in Phnom Srouch district, Kampong Speu province,” he said.

The farm in Kampong Speu and the shipping containers are the latest evidence that Cambodia, in addition to its problem of drug addiction and cross-border smuggling, may have to deal with the growing problem of drug production inside the country.

Initial laboratory tests on the seized chemicals at the National Authority for Combating Drugs had found various types of acid and a solvent.

“We are now doing analysis on seven different chemical substances, and we will announce the result later,” said Meas Vyrith, head of the drug lab at the Ministry of Interior.

Explaining the exact uses of the equipment discovered in a separate container, Vyrith, said there was a condenser, a device for safely pouring chemicals, and a filter with controls for heating and cooling.

Samorn said Sovanntara was transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as authorities widen the search for more suspects.

“In this case, only one suspect cannot do it, because it is a big crime, rare in Cambodia.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at sophakchakrya.khouth@phnompenhpost.com

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