An official investigation into a large-scale narcotics laboratory recently discovered
at a Kampong Speu cow farm has led authorities to suspect a powerful "foreign
mastermind" and raised new fears about Cambodia's role in Southeast Asia's illicit
Authorities and international experts are now attempting to pinpoint the origin of
the three tons of precursor chemicals confiscated on March 31, and learn how the
legal, but closely monitored, chemicals crossed international borders. Former government
adviser Chea Chung, the alleged owner of the farm, remains at large.
"We have an arrest warrant and police have taken measures to watch for Chea
Chung along the borders," said Teng Savong, head of the Investigation Committee
of the Ministry of Interior on April 18. "Chea Chung is a very important man
and we have suspected that there is a powerful person behind him."
Moek Dara, director of the MoI's anti-drug department, said the government is using
all available officers to search for Chung, and he believes the former adviser to
Deputy Prime Minister Nhek Bun Chhay is still inside Cambodia.
"We won't allow him to escape," Dara told the Post.
Following an inspection of the raided sites in Kampong Speu province and Phnom Penh,
a top UN drug official confirmed that the farm was used to produce chloroephedrine
- a precursor chemical for the manufacturing of methamphetamines.
"The process has different stages. This was step 1: a place to isolate and dry
chloroephedrine. They were shipping it to another site for step 2, where it would
be converted into meth," said Jeremy Douglas, regional project coordinator for
the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on April 19. "There was no actual meth,
but there's no reason to have this drug on a farm if you're not making methaphetamine.
They were close to producing it, about halfway."
Douglas said the end product that would be made from the chloroephedrine is probably
"ice," a purified and highly addictive form of crystalized methamphetamine.
"It's most likely that the final product that would reach these streets is ice.
There's more value for the money: they could decide to cut it and make pills or tablets
if they wanted to," said Douglas.
Douglas was also concerned about two Malaysian men arrested at Phnom Penh International
Airport with 2.2 kgs of ice less than a week after the drug raids.
"The theory was that [ice] came from Myanmar, now this may or may not be true,"
Lour Ramin, secretary-general of the National Authority on Combatting Drugs (NACD),
said 12 types of chemicals were seized including chloroephedrine and some 800 bottles
of liquid thionyl chloride. Thionyl chloride is described in a scientific journal
as a "re-agent used for the production of chemical compounds to purify the end
"We are investigating to find out where the chemicals were imported from. We
can see labels written in Chinese and Vietnamese, but the perpetrators cut the import-export
stamps off the containers," Ramin said. "We are working with neighboring
countries and the US DEA to find out which company ordered the chemicals and who
was the importer."
Concerns have been raised about the environmental impact on the Kampong Speu site.
According to Douglas, officials from the US DEA and UNODC have taken samples at the
site and will advise in its clean up. An inter-ministerial committee has been formed
under the oversight of Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister.
"The committee is already working - we've had one meeting and went to check
out the scene," said Ramin. "Now we will listen to technicians' ideas about
safety for the health of the people living around the area. We will make a decision
about how to deal with the chemicals, either to burn or bury."
Kang Heang, Kampong Speu provincial governor, said the area's wells and livestock
have been checked out by government officials.
So far, 18 arrests were made after police simultaneously stormed the two locations
in Kampong Speu and Phnom Penh. Two Chinese men and one Thai were charged with drug
production and smuggling on April 5 in Kampong Speu Provincial Court. The same day
a Chinese woman was charged with the same offenses in Phnom Penh. Fourteen local
villagers were charged with colluding in drug production.
"Now, the police are investigating the big mastermind who is a foreigner,"