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An image of a digital body scan showing multiple packages of cocaine in the body of a South African national who was caught by the authorities at Phnom Penh International Airport last week. Photo supplied
An image of a digital body scan showing multiple packages of cocaine in the body of a South African national who was caught by the authorities at Phnom Penh International Airport last week. Photo supplied

South African held for airport drug bust

Anti-drug police detained a South African man at Phnom Penh International Airport on Friday after a tip-off from crime agencies abroad led to the discovery of 100 plastic-wrapped capsules of cocaine in his stomach, the second significant drug bust at the airport in as many weeks.

Chief of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Drug Department In Song said the suspect, Jacobus Dawie Botha, 30, had flown from Brazil via Dubai and Bangkok before arriving in Cambodia on a morning flight.

“We received the information from an anti-drug authority abroad. We are cooperating with each other,” said Song, who did not reveal with which countries’ authorities they were working.

“We suspected and scanned him and found cocaine in his stomach.”

A senior anti-drug officer yesterday suggested the bust could be linked to Mexican cartels, however, Song said the haul was unrelated to the 1.5 kilos of cocaine seized from a Venezuelan woman at the airport two weeks ago, though acknowledged the pair both flew from Brazil.

Song said the suspect was being held at the Anti-Drug Department for further questioning before being sent to the municipal court.

However, before the man can face a hearing, Song said officers will have to wait for him to pass the entire load.

“We have let him eat so that the drugs come out, one by one. We have medicine to make him deliver them,” he said, adding that in the first two days, 36 of the 100 that the man claimed to have swallowed had been retrieved. “We don’t know the total weight of the cocaine. When we collect it all, we will form a committee to cut it and measure it,” he said.

As with the bust earlier this month, Deputy National Police Commissioner Mok Chito said the drugs were likely destined for Thailand.

“Normally, they come in and take it by land to Thailand. They may think that it will be easier by land,” Chito said. “If he had gotten off the plane in Thailand, he would have been arrested, the same as here, because we inform each other and have skilled technical teams.”

Reached yesterday, Meas Virith, director of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said the large hauls were the work of organised cartels.

He added the “focus” was on the notorious Mexican Sinaloa cartel, whose former leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured in January and is awaiting extradition to the US.

“These groups transport drugs to Europe through ships, and they transport to Asia via plane, from Brazil,” Virith said.

“We are wondering why the airport in Brazil lets them leave from there. But after that, when they arrive in the United Arab Emirates, they change agents again. It’s an organised group, meaning they have agents everywhere, not only in Cambodia, but in all countries.”

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