Three more suspects and numerous additional safrole oil harvest locations are being pursued by Pursat provincial police after the biggest safrole oil bust this year took place on Thursday.
Over the weekend, provincial anti-drug officials questioned Vietnamese-Cambodian Keo Thou, who turned over new information about his accomplices and the large-scale safrole oil-producing racket.
Thou was charged by Pursat Provincial Court with stockpiling 114 barrels of the illegal compound, which can be used as a pre-cursor for MDMA, commonly known as the party drug ecstasy, at his dilapidated house near the base of the Cardamom Mountains in Pursat.
“The suspect admitted that he guarded and prepared to transport the 114 barrels of safrole,” provincial court prosecutor, Yu Yeunny, said, adding the suspect was being held in pre-trial detention while authorities continued to question him.
Questioning of Thou revealed a growing network of drug traffickers who worked separately and secretly, speaking mostly over the phone and using code names in communication, said Si Savin, chief of the anti-drug office in Pursat.
Savin said that two Vietnamese nationals and another Cambodian were involved in the smuggling of the safrole across Thai and Vietnamese borders.
“The three other suspects rarely went to the safrole harvesting sites and always lived in mobile locations,” Savin said.
Authorities also learned that the harvesting was not isolated in a single location but deep in the forest at various locations along the border of Koh Kong and Pursat, as well as Battambang. Once the root of sassafras trees growing in those locations were harvested, they were bought to a sophisticated cooking operation near Thour’s house to distill the valuable safrole oil from the vegetation.
According to Savin, Thou’s only duty was to guard the safrole stock location in Pursat.
Thou could offer police few details of the other suspects involved in the trafficking and production of the oil but said five to 10 barrels at a time would be moved to Phnom Penh for further processing.