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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - War on drugs in retreat as top brass go free

War on drugs in retreat as top brass go free

The government's newfound credibility following several recent drug busts has been

damaged by the court-ordered release of two suspects in one of the country's biggest

drug trafficking cases, law enforcement officials said.

Charges were dropped on October 20 against two Ministry of Defence military intelligence

officers, Major General Dom Hak and Lieutenant Colonel Muon Sokhan, the two main

suspects in an October 1 seizure that netted 40 kg of heroin and amphetamines. They

had been arrested ten days earlier by municipal police.

They were summoned to an unofficial hearing at military police headquarters in Phnom

Penh. The municipal court judge who questioned them, Kong Seth, released them due,

he said, to a lack of evidence.

"Whatever I asked, the suspect did not answer," said Seth. "So I will

continue to investigate for four to six months."

However it is known that others arrested in the bust, both Taiwanese and Cambodian,

had directly implicated Hak.

The repercussions of Hak's release will hit hard, said Ngan Chamroeun, director of

the International Cooperation Department of the National Authority for Combating

Drugs.

"The [US Drug Enforcement Agency] was willing to give some training assistance

to law enforcement here, especially about combating heroin trafficking," he

said. "Since Hak has been released, they will probably cancel [it]."

Hak's release follows on the heels of the release of five Sihanoukville customs officials

linked to the smuggling of 24 kg of heroin to Australia. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered

their release on October 14-despite the objections of court officials, and to the

surprise of Australian law enforcement personnel who had cooperated with the operation.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also expressed its "disappointment"

that good practical actions the country had taken failed to address difficult issues,

such as involvement by government officials in drug trafficking.

"Our understanding is that there is significant evidence linking General Dom

Hak with this case," said Graham Shaw, program officer at UNODC. "It was

the biggest arrest in a long time and we would have expected a more comprehensive

investigation."

Police arrested four Cambodians, along with three Taiwanese suspects, on October

7. Officials said the Taiwanese suspects directly implicated military police including

Hak.

The Phnom Penh municipal deputy police chief, Brigadier General Heng Pov, would not

confirm this, saying the details are being held by the court.

One of the four Cambodians who were arrested was Lim Samnang, a captain in the intelligence

unit of the Ministry of Defense. Drugs were found stored in his Tuol Kork house.

He confessed to police that Hak had assigned him to stash the drugs, said Khieu Sopheak,

spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.

Shaw said the burden is now on the government to clean house and expose corruption

if it wants to preserve its reputation with the international community.

He urged the authorities to appeal the judge's decision.

But Sopheak said the release of Hak fell under the authority of the court.

"If they find no evidence, they have the right to release the suspects,"

he said. "We can only appeal to the second-class court," he said-and added

that he was satisfied with the outcome and would not appeal.

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