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Officer detained in arms smuggling case went through Koh Kong casino to access Thailand

A view of the Koh Kong Resort located at the Thai-Cambodia border.
A view of the Koh Kong Resort located at the Thai-Cambodia border. Shaun Turton

Officer detained in arms smuggling case went through Koh Kong casino to access Thailand

The Cambodian official arrested by Thai police on suspicion of smuggling weapons entered Thailand using a private road that is part of a border-hugging casino owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat and is not subject to immigration controls, according to two officials at the border.

The existence of such an unregulated crossing was denied by a representative of Yong Phat, who said everyone who used the road was still required to pass through the nearby immigration checkpoint.

Leang Piseth, a lieutenant at the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration, was arrested on June 3 in Thailand’s Trat province after the discovery of AK-47s, machine guns, grenades and ammunition in the crashed car of Thai Air Force officer Pakhin Detphong.

A senior official at the Cham Yeam International Checkpoint, which connects Trat with Koh Kong province, told The Post last week that the white Range Rover that Piseth drove to Thailand was recorded by a CCTV camera in the area on the morning of his arrest.

The footage allegedly showed the arrested official’s car driving towards Thailand using the road in Yong Phat’s Koh Kong Resort, a casino and hotel about 500 metres from the border, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

“After the accident, we checked and we know from the camera. We checked, and he went through the casino,” said the officer. Asked if the immigration officials at the nearby Cham Yeam checkpoint controlled the road through the casino complex into Thailand, he said they did not.

“It is private, [controlled by] the company,” he said.

Cham Yeam International Checkpoint Deputy Chief Phuong Bunthoeun confirmed the official’s account yesterday by phone and said his unit had sent a report about Piseth’s crossing into Thailand via the Ly Yong Phat casino private road to their superiors in Phnom Penh.

Bunthoeun said the route near the checkpoint was not monitored by officials from the Department of Immigration.

“The person went out through the other border crossing, through the casino,” Bunthoeun said of Piseth. “The crossing is near the checkpoint, but only for their business [and] their staff – we don’t have rights over that. Their staff enters and leaves through that way.”

“If he came through our checkpoint, we would check him, but if he goes through the other crossing we don’t have any rights or duty,” the deputy chief explained. “We cannot do anything, they don’t tell us.”

The characterisation of the road as an unregulated crossing was disputed by Yong Phat’s son-in-law and representative Seng Nhak, who said that anybody who used the road to enter Thailand was still required to first pass through immigration controls at the official checkpoint.

“You can have many roads access to the border check point, but there is only one entrance/departure office that everyone must pass by,” Nhak wrote in an email, explaining that he had confirmed with the Koh Kong Resort that all travellers using the road also passed the checkpoint.

Piseth, the alleged arms trafficker, is a relative by marriage of both Defence Minister Tea Banh, who himself is from Koh Kong province, and outgoing Provincial Governor Bun Leut. He is awaiting trial in Thailand after being charged with possession of illegal weapons, alongside the Thai Air Force officer and another Thai national, Jakkraphong Kraikraing.

Thai authorities have said that Piseth passed through checkpoints on the Thai side of the border using his “VIP” status, according to the Bangkok Post. The authorities said there existed an “unofficial agreement” to let certain people pass through the border without being screened by officials.

Immigration Department Chief Sok Phal could not be reached yesterday.

Although the Cambodian immigration official told The Post Piseth was recorded crossing the border on the morning of June 3 at about 6:40am, Detphong told Thai investigators Piseth brought the weapons into Thailand on June 2, the Bangkok Post reported.

The pair allegedly met that night at a resort about 20 kilometres from the Cham Yeam crossing, according to investigators and CCTV footage from the resort.

A witness said that Detphong’s pickup truck, which carried the weapons, crashed about 7:40am on June 3. According to Thai authorities, Piseth and Kraikraing then approached the scene about two hours later before they were arrested.

Both men have denied involvement in arms smuggling.

The Cambodian immigration officer at the Cham Yeam checkpoint who described Piseth’s crossing on the morning of June 3 declined to be interviewed further and would not answer questions about the timing of Piseth’s movements.

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