About 1,000 litres of precursor chemicals for methamphetamine production were seized by a coalition of authorities in a massive drug bust at a warehouse in Kampong Speu province yesterday.
Authorities were alerted when a guard at the one-time pig farm, owned by tycoon Sok Rathan, complained of illness from a foul smell emanating from the main structure on the property he was paid to guard in Kontrum village, Phnom Sruoch district.
“After preliminary searches [two days ago], we suspected the location might be used to produce drugs, and once or twice we saw there were some drug elements and powder buried in the soil around the warehouse,” Chan Da, deputy commander of Kampong Speu provincial military police, said.
The following day, 50 authority officials descended on the warehouse, which had been rented from Rathan by a Taiwanese man and a Colombian man, about 3:30pm.
They worked through the night, hauling out the last of the massive load of chemicals at 9:30am yesterday.
Eighty-two tanks in total containing precursor chemicals had been seized during the 12-plus hour operation, but an untold number of tanks containing a liquid chemical remained buried beneath the soil in the warehouse, police said.
Authorities have yet to unearth this cache as they fear the liquid may be explosive.
Men Sophan, chief of the technical department at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department, said his team was still testing all the substances, including that of the buried tanks.
“We are worried about these substances that are buried in the soil, that they can cause danger if they are buried with gas that could explode when it is hot,” Sophan said.
Drug-producing paraphernalia including drying machines and balloon flasks were also seized, officials said.
Witnesses said that about one month ago, a container had transported the offensive-smelling chemicals to the warehouse, and the renting duo had told villagers the chemicals were for pig farming.
A technician came to check on the warehouse every four to five days, villagers told the authorities.
“We have yet to arrest the suspects, and we are contacting the land owner to look at rent documents, but we know their identities,” deputy commander Da said.
Technical chief Sophal said that as well as the guard, many of the nearby villagers had been affected by the air pollution from such a large stockpile of dangerous chemicals.
“The spread of foul smells from the farm affected the health of so many villagers that those living nearby had to avoid using water in the area,” Sophal said.
Nearby villagers told the Post of headaches, facial swelling and skin irritations they allege were caused by the chemicals polluting the atmosphere.
Khieu Saman, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department, said that he was unwilling to conclude that the warehouse was a drug-producing location while the case is still under investigation.
“They are chemical substances, so we don’t know what they are, and many chemical substances can be mixed together to make drugs,” he said, adding that hasty conclusions could adversely affect peoples’ reputations.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]