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Heroin-by-mail plan gets pair life in prison

A former RCAF colonel and a Vietnamese woman were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison yesterday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The pair were also saddled with a fine of 80 million riel, or about $20,000, each for attempting to transport 12 kilograms of heroin to Australia by post last year.

Former colonel with the Ministry of National Defence, So Rith, 53, and Vietnamese national Nguyen Vanthanh, 44, were arrested last November when they reportedly tried to send the heroin to Australia inside a shipment of wine sent from the Wat Phnom Post Office in Phnom Penh.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Un Rithy, deputy chief of the Internal Security Police Department at the Ministry of Interior, the post office staff quickly notified the police after Rith and Vanthanh dropped off the packages.

The police then sought out the two accused separately, arresting Rith on his way to King Luck Hotel in Prampi Makara district and Vanthanh at Sorya bus station, where she was awaiting a bus back to Vietnam.

After their arrests, the police seized the four cases of wine, lined with six packages of heroin, as evidence.

Presiding judge Sous Sam Ath announced the verdicts.

“Based on the evidence, although the two accused have denied they were owners of the drugs seized or involved with the trafficking of drug substances to Australia, the court has found they are guilty,” Sam Ath told the courtroom.
Vanthanh told the Post yesterday that she would soon appeal the court’s decision to sentence her to life in prison.

“I was not the drug trafficker or the owner of these seized goods,” Vanthanh said. “The heroin belonged to a Vietnamese-Australian man named Chun Chenda, who escaped arrest. He asked me to send it to Australia.”

Rith, who previously claimed in court that he only came along to the post office with Vanthanh because she needed him to interpret Khmer, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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