Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Australia seeks cop hiding in Cambodia

Australia seeks cop hiding in Cambodia

Australia seeks cop hiding in Cambodia

AUSTRALIAN authorities are hoping to enlist the help of their Phnom Penh counterparts

after an alleged rogue cop at the center of police corruption investigations fled

to Cambodia where he is believed hiding out with a local mistress.

The undercover drug squad officer - whose name has been suppressed in Australia by

the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) - fled amid separate inquiries in the states

of Victoria and New South Wales.

Damning allegations against him include importing drugs from Cambodia into Australia

after he was elevated to the top echelons of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC)

and deployed to Phnom Penh in 2002 where he was tasked with infiltrating drug cartels.

The secret operation was code named "Djurra" and accompanying the former

Melbourne-based officer was a Vietnamese-Australian, a known underworld figure who

turned informer after his arrest in 1997, the PIC heard. The informer's name was

not released.

Their disappearance poses potentially embarrassing questions for Cambodian authorities

who assisted the pair in orchestrating a 24-kilogram heroin bust in Sydney in March

2003 that was hailed by law enforcers in both countries.

Information was reportedly channeled from the pair, then based in Cambodia, to Customs

and the Australian Federal Police, who raided a ship docked in Port Botany and found

the heroin, valued at $20 million, hidden among cans of fish paste.

An Australian and four Cambodians were charged in Phnom Penh and the seizure prompted

Australian officials to raise the prospect of increasing Cambodia's role in regional

anti-drug enforcement campaigns.

Those embarrassing questions could test Cambodia's National Police Chief Hok Lundy,

who diplomats say is expected to visit Australia, where his children live, within

the next month.

"We know he's scheduled to arrive here," one senior diplomat in Australia

told the Post, regarding Cambodia's top cop.

However, sources in Australia said any talks on the missing detective between Australia

and Cambodia would initially be held between the two governments.

A spokesperson for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh said they had no comment.

Hok Lundy has developed a close association with Australian authorities that has

helped in the prosecution of former Khmer Rouge soldiers for the executions of three

Western backpackers, and the seizure of illegal immigrants in Sihanoukville who were

bound for Australia.

Corrupt cops have made headlines across Australia and the fleeing officer has been

called to appear before the PIC, but few of his colleagues expect the former policeman

- who left behind a partner - to front up at that inquiry.

The investigations into police corruption in Australia have focused on Victoria,

where the state government is under mounting pressure to launch an independent judicial

inquiry amid a wave of gangland executions believed associated with the drug cartels.

At least 10 members of Victoria's now disbanded police drug squad have faced criminal

charges since 2001 and the arrests have stalled prosecutions of a litany of narcotic

cases currently before Australian courts.

"It is a difficult time," Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon

told ABC radio, adding that getting these police officers before the courts was important

in stopping police corruption.

"Police officers have absolutely exploited their role in the drug agency,"

she said.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said officers would obviously have

taken notice of the case in Cambodia but to her knowledge no extradition warrant

has yet been issued.

Meanwhile the Crime Commission balked at answering any questions from the Post. One

spokesman said any access to information regarding the officer in Cambodia would

have to be made in writing, and this could be done through any "suburban police

station" across the country.

According to the Australian newspaper the fleeing officer is a detective senior constable

with a "thin frame and light features" and "was once known as a tough

cop who worked Melbourne's hardest criminals and toughest drug rings."

It was his success rate that won him the promotion from the former Victoria police

drug squad to the ACC, and on March 11 a senior detective from the disbanded squad,

Wayne Strawhorn, appeared before the Victorian Supreme Court on charges of trafficking,

theft and threatening to kill a corruption investigator.

The Sydney drug bust last year was not the first Cambodia/Australia drug connection

of recent times.

Unemployed Melbourne salesman Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, is facing a possible death sentence

in Singapore after he was caught attempting to smuggle 396.2 grams of heroin from

Cambodia to Australia.

He was arrested en route. Under Singapore law anyone convicted of carrying 15 grams

of the potentially deadly narcotic faces mandatory hanging.

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