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A policeman inspects a coffee bag containing fake coffee
A policeman inspects a coffee bag containing fake coffee yesterday during a raid in Sen Sok district. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Four arrested in raid targeting fake coffee

Police have warned coffee lovers there could be a couple of bad batches circulating and percolating in Phnom Penh after a raid on a fake coffee enterprise in Sen Sok district’s Khmuonh commune yesterday.

Officers arrested four men during the joint operation in Banlar Sa Et village and also seized 30 tonnes of raw materials used to manufacture the potentially toxic brew.

“The coffee was made of overcooked soybean and corn and then mixed with chemical substances in order to get the odor to smell like real coffee,” said operation leader General Long Sreng. “A small amount of coffee was then grinded and added with those things before it was packed,” he added.

General Sreng, deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-economic crime department, said experts traced the suspicious mix to a handicraft factory opened six years ago.

According to a patent connected with the site – lodged with the Sen Sok district tax authorities last year – the fake coffee was sold under brands including MeKong, Nam Nguyen, Tay Nguyen and Laos.

During the raid, conducted together with the Phnom Penh municipal deputy prosecutor, Phnom Penh municipal checkpoint officials and local authorities, officers arrested 42-year-old dual Vietnamese-Cambodian citizen Seang Dara, the alleged owner, and three Vietnamese workers.

They also seized raw materials totaling 34.9 tonnes, including 17 kinds of chemicals allegedly used in the process.

Dr Ly Cheng Huy, managing director of Cambodia Health website, said the coffee’s toxicity would depend on the exact chemical mix, though he suggested that it could be potentially carcinogenic.

“It depends on the chemicals they use, the amount of flour and what they insert for smell and taste,” he said.

Police trumpeted the raid as their first big fake coffee bust of 2015, although it’s unclear how many similar operations they’ve shut down.

In 2012, according to Vietnam’s Thanh Nien news, Vietnamese police shut down a fake coffee operation in Ho Chi Minh that was combining soybeans, corn, chemicals used in dishwashing soap and industrial colour powders to brew their counterfeit java.

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