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Cops tout more drug arrests, but note smaller busts

Bags of cocaine are weighed after they were seized at the Phnom Penh International Airport in a bust earlier this month. National Police
Bags of cocaine are weighed after they were seized at the Phnom Penh International Airport in a bust earlier this month. National Police

Cops tout more drug arrests, but note smaller busts

Cambodia’s National Police claim to have netted 1,000 more drug suspects in the past nine months compared to the same period last year, but brought in a significantly lower haul, a result that prompted observers to urge police to prioritise large-scale dealers over “small fish”.

The police reports revealed a total of 2,265 cases and more than 5,000 people arrested over the past nine months (between December 2015 and August), compared to 1,668 cases and 3,402 people over the same period in the previous year.

However, this year more than 60 kilograms of drugs, mostly methamphetamine, were confiscated, down from some 80 kilograms last year.

The director of the National Police’s anti-drug trafficking department, Khieu Saman, said the figures were touted by National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun on Friday, who also urged police to follow their arrested suspects through the court process.

“There are cases where the suspects received lighter punishments than the actual crimes they committed because of their lawyers,” Saman said.

“We try very hard to crack down on the cases, but when the suspects receive a lesser fine than what they actually deserve, it is not good.”

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun noted it was the duty of defence lawyers to fight for lower penalties for their clients by challenging police evidence, which he said was often scant in drug cases, adding “that very few cases are drug dealers” as opposed to small-time users or delivery men.

Huy Hoeurn, deputy general of prisons, said the significant increase in arrests led to overcrowding at Prey Sar prison, which he said holds 1,500 drug-related prisoners.

“Most of the problems we encounter are because the number of prisoners is increasing sharply due to prisoners who are engaging in drug trafficking,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the order to follow up cases closely could be cause for “major concern” if local police were facing pressure to secure more convictions, adding that “such pressure results in police taking short cuts in investigation procedures”.

Political analyst Ou Virak, meanwhile, pointed out that the math of higher arrests and lower yields meant police were only capturing the “smaller fish”, adding that more jail time did not equate to fewer drug problems. “I think unless we have a way to treat addicts, they are probably going to fall back in their own habits.”

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