A huge stockpile of safrole oil – a precursor in the production of chemicals, including illegal narcotics – has been seized in southwest Cambodia after police informants alerted the authorities to its location.
More than 3,200 litres of the oil were found stashed in 109 cases buried underground in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district, district police chief Theang Len said.
“The reason we know they were hidden underground is because we have our informants in the area. People tipped us off after they dug the soil and broke some of the cases. They could smell it; they called our forces and we dug them out,” he said.
Safrole oil is extracted from the roots and bark of sassafras plants, which include a variety of tree found in the Cardamom Mountains known locally as mreach prov.
The oil is typically used in the manufacture of pesticides and other chemicals, but can also be used as a key precursor of drugs such as MDMA, commonly called Ecstasy or Molly.
Police said yesterday they suspected the area was still being used to produce safrole oil since the authorities impounded about 600 litres in a similar bust last year.
“The oil is a source of drugs production,” Len said.
He added that police had identified multiple suspects who were residents of Kampong Chhnang province.
“After the investigation is completed, we will send the evidence to the provincial police station, but we will still conduct further investigation and arrest more suspects and bring them to justice,” he said.
In October, 2005, the Ministry of Interior wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to advise the Forestry Administration to stop all production of safrole oil because in its refined form it can be used in drug production.
In June last year, the agriculture ministry granted tycoon Try Pheap the rights to collect and process yellow vine at the Tatai hydropower reservoir in Veal Veng. Yellow vine has also been linked to safrole oil production.
Khieu Samorn, acting director of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Department at the Ministry of Interior, said if the oil was processed in certain ways it could be legal.
“If it is refined in a good way, it is good,” he said.
“But if not, it is illegal.”