Four Thai women were found guilty of smuggling more than eight kilograms of cocaine from Ecuador and Ghana and sentenced to life in prison on Friday.
The four, who were arrested and tried in two separate cases, were also each fined between 50 million and 80 million riel ($12,500 to $20,000).
Sous Sam Ath, presiding judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said the suspects – Varangkana Phomdee, 29; Tangboo Ketkarn, 31; Pinwjansod Utsatee, 21; and Hollaus Nanthitya, 28 – were each given a life sentence for the charge of international drug trafficking under Article 40 of Cambodia’s anti-drugs law.
He added that the four accused women have the right to appeal to an upper court should they not accept the Phnom Penh Court’s ruling.
According to Sam Ath, Phomdee was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on August 7 last year. Authorities discovered 3.6 kilograms of cocaine hidden in her luggage. Ketkarn was arrested the next day when she travelled from Thailand to Phnom Penh to buy the cocaine from Phomdee.
Utsatee, meanwhile, was arrested at the capital’s airport on August 13 and police seized about 4.8 kilograms of cocaine from her luggage. Nanthitya was arrested later that day at a Tuol Kork district hotel, after police received a tip she was going to buy drugs from Utsatee.
The four accused and their defence lawyers could not be reached for comment but, during their trials in May and early June, all four women denied the charges, saying they had been unwitting mules.
A life sentence for a drugs charge is almost unprecedented. Only three people are believed to have received life sentences in the past decade, and all for far larger crimes.
In 2012, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was given a life sentence for atrocities he committed as commander of the notorious Khmer Rouge security centre, S-21. Also last year, former anti-drugs czar Moek Dara and his associate, Chea Leng, each received a life sentence for an elaborate and long-running drug trafficking and bribery ring.