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Ex-colonel tried on heroin charges

A former military colonel and a Vietnamese woman were tried by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday on accusations that they tried to send 12 kilograms of heroin to Australia by mail.

According to presiding judge Suos Sam Ath, So Rith, 53, formerly of the general infantry command at the Ministry of National Defence, was arrested in November 2012, the same day as Nguven Vanthanh, a 44-year-old Vietnamese national allegedly involved in the international drug trafficking plot.

“They were arrested by police after they have brought a total of four cases of goods in which heroin was hidden, and tried to send them to Australia via Wat Phnom Post Office in Phnom Penh,” Sam Ath said.

Rith and Vanthanh allegedly lined four cases of Yinshin wine with packages of heroin totalling 12 kilograms. Post office staff notified police of the packages after the two dropped them off, said Lieutenant Colonel Un Rithy, deputy chief of the Internal Security Police Office in Ministry of Interior.

After receiving the tip from the post office, police tracked down Rith and Vanthanh separately, Rithy said.

Police pulled Rith over in his car as he drove to King Luck Hotel in Prampi Makara district’s Boeung Prolit commune. Vanthanh was arrested at the Sorya Bus Station in Phnom Penh, where she was waiting to board a bus to Vietnam.

Both suspects denied any involvement in drug trafficking during their court hearing yesterday.

“The reason why I went to the post office on that day . . . was because I was asked by Nguven Vanthanh to interpret because she could not speak Khmer, and she wanted to send the goods to Australia,” Rith said in court. “I was told that the goods, which were sent via the post office to Australia, were Yinshin wines.”

Vanthanh said she was sending the wine for a Vietnamese-Australian man – who was not arrested – and was unaware of the heroin inside the boxes.

“I was not the drug trafficker or the owner of these goods seized,” Vanthanh said. “They belonged to a man named Chun Chenda … he has asked to send it for him to Australia.”

Verdicts and sentences will be handed down July 3.

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