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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Suspected drug dealer commits suicide

Suspected drug dealer commits suicide

The hunt for further people involved in the Kampong Speu drug production racket continues

following the apparent suicide of one of the three high-profile suspects in police

custody.

Oum Chhay, an advisor to the National Assembly and Cambodian People's Party Honorary

President Heng Samrin, jumped to his death from the first floor of the Phnom Penh

anti-drug police offices on Aug. 21, six days after he was arrested at the Cambodian-Thai

border crossing of Poipet. He was returning from a meeting with Thai government officials.

"It is clear that he committed suicide, and he had already tried a few times

just before this," Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior (MoI),

told the Post. "The first time he beat his head against a wall and secondly

he tried to electrocute himself, but he was not successful as police were guarding

him."

"I think he killed himself because he did not want any other drug ringleaders

to hurt his family or relatives," Sopheak said.

"If I am released, they will still kill me," Sopheak quoted Chhay as having

said.

The three police officials who were guarding Chhay at the time of his death said

they could not protect him as he dived so quickly, Sopheak said.

"I cannot comment on the case of Oum Chhay's suicide as police are still investigating

his death," said Lou Ramin, secretary general of the National Authority for

Combating Drugs.

Chhay, 52, who was also president of the Banteay Meanchey Chamber of Commerce and

the chairman of Chhay Chhay Investments, was suspected of being involved in the transportation

of four tonnes of chemicals used in the production of drugs at the large methamphetamine

lab in Phnom Sruch district, Kampong Speu, which police raided on April 1.

Chea Chung, former advisor to Funcinpec Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay, was arrested

on the same day at the Bavet Cambodia-Vietnam border crossing in Svay Rieng province.

Chung owns the 62-hectare cattle farm on which the Kampong Speu drug production lab

was situated.

Chung was sent to the Phnom Penh municipal court on the same day of Chhay's death,

also charged with conspiring to produce drugs. He was detained in Prey Sar prison

by order of the investigating judge Kim Ravy, who declined comment to the Post.

Sopheak said police are still searching for other ringleaders after the arrest of

the two suspects on August 15.

"I cannot estimate how many people will be arrested in the aftermath,"

said Sopheak. "Our investigation is not over yet."

Ramin confirmed the Kampong Speu drugs lab case is far from over:

"This group of people cannot avoid the net of the law." Ramin said, "Our

investigation to arrest more of these criminals continues."

Ramin said many other suspects are in custody awaiting trial.

Another high-ranking official implicated in the case is Brigadier General Chum Tong

Heng, director of the Development Department of the Commander in- Chief of Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces, who was arrested June 22 and charged with conspiring to produce

drugs.

On August 2, military police raided another large "meth lab" in Dangkor

district and confiscated laboratory equipment, $100,000 in counterfeit notes, an

automatic weapon and a car.

In a related development, on August 22, the US embassy announced a contribution from

the US Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement

(INL) of $80,000 to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help in the clean

up of hazardous chemicals found at the Kampong Speu site and to "undertake other

activities in Cambodia."

The US and Australian governments had already contributed $60,000 each to the UNODC

for the disposal of hazardous chemicals found at the site.

"You don't just walk in and destroy these chemicals, which are highly toxic,"

said Lars Pedersen, head of the Cambodian branch of UNODC. "This is a huge operation

and will require a lot of time. We are extremely grateful for this [INL] money."

"It will enable us to complete this clean-up and help build up the Cambodian

government's capacity in dealing with such drug seizures." Pedersen said the

operation was especially difficult because of the absence of chemical disposal facilities

in Cambodia. It was the first time in the world that the destruction of such chemicals

was conducted on site, he said.

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