AUSTRALIAN authorities are hoping to enlist the help of their Phnom Penh counterparts
after an alleged rogue cop at the center of police corruption investigations fled
to Cambodia where he is believed hiding out with a local mistress.
The undercover drug squad officer - whose name has been suppressed in Australia by
the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) - fled amid separate inquiries in the states
of Victoria and New South Wales.
Damning allegations against him include importing drugs from Cambodia into Australia
after he was elevated to the top echelons of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC)
and deployed to Phnom Penh in 2002 where he was tasked with infiltrating drug cartels.
The secret operation was code named "Djurra" and accompanying the former
Melbourne-based officer was a Vietnamese-Australian, a known underworld figure who
turned informer after his arrest in 1997, the PIC heard. The informer's name was
Their disappearance poses potentially embarrassing questions for Cambodian authorities
who assisted the pair in orchestrating a 24-kilogram heroin bust in Sydney in March
2003 that was hailed by law enforcers in both countries.
Information was reportedly channeled from the pair, then based in Cambodia, to Customs
and the Australian Federal Police, who raided a ship docked in Port Botany and found
the heroin, valued at $20 million, hidden among cans of fish paste.
An Australian and four Cambodians were charged in Phnom Penh and the seizure prompted
Australian officials to raise the prospect of increasing Cambodia's role in regional
anti-drug enforcement campaigns.
Those embarrassing questions could test Cambodia's National Police Chief Hok Lundy,
who diplomats say is expected to visit Australia, where his children live, within
the next month.
"We know he's scheduled to arrive here," one senior diplomat in Australia
told the Post, regarding Cambodia's top cop.
However, sources in Australia said any talks on the missing detective between Australia
and Cambodia would initially be held between the two governments.
A spokesperson for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh said they had no comment.
Hok Lundy has developed a close association with Australian authorities that has
helped in the prosecution of former Khmer Rouge soldiers for the executions of three
Western backpackers, and the seizure of illegal immigrants in Sihanoukville who were
bound for Australia.
Corrupt cops have made headlines across Australia and the fleeing officer has been
called to appear before the PIC, but few of his colleagues expect the former policeman
- who left behind a partner - to front up at that inquiry.
The investigations into police corruption in Australia have focused on Victoria,
where the state government is under mounting pressure to launch an independent judicial
inquiry amid a wave of gangland executions believed associated with the drug cartels.
At least 10 members of Victoria's now disbanded police drug squad have faced criminal
charges since 2001 and the arrests have stalled prosecutions of a litany of narcotic
cases currently before Australian courts.
"It is a difficult time," Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon
told ABC radio, adding that getting these police officers before the courts was important
in stopping police corruption.
"Police officers have absolutely exploited their role in the drug agency,"
A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said officers would obviously have
taken notice of the case in Cambodia but to her knowledge no extradition warrant
has yet been issued.
Meanwhile the Crime Commission balked at answering any questions from the Post. One
spokesman said any access to information regarding the officer in Cambodia would
have to be made in writing, and this could be done through any "suburban police
station" across the country.
According to the Australian newspaper the fleeing officer is a detective senior constable
with a "thin frame and light features" and "was once known as a tough
cop who worked Melbourne's hardest criminals and toughest drug rings."
It was his success rate that won him the promotion from the former Victoria police
drug squad to the ACC, and on March 11 a senior detective from the disbanded squad,
Wayne Strawhorn, appeared before the Victorian Supreme Court on charges of trafficking,
theft and threatening to kill a corruption investigator.
The Sydney drug bust last year was not the first Cambodia/Australia drug connection
of recent times.
Unemployed Melbourne salesman Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, is facing a possible death sentence
in Singapore after he was caught attempting to smuggle 396.2 grams of heroin from
Cambodia to Australia.
He was arrested en route. Under Singapore law anyone convicted of carrying 15 grams
of the potentially deadly narcotic faces mandatory hanging.