A bizarre trial in which four people were accused of smuggling “uranium” into Cambodia – purportedly in liquid form, in plastic bottles whose contents were never tested – will be sent back to the investigative phase, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge ordered yesterday.
“Having listened to the accused, lawyers and the prosecutor, the court decides to order a reinvestigation of the case [and] requests for the result of the test on the confiscated substance and review of the relevant evidence,” Judge Seng Leang said yesterday.
Leang also assigned himself to be the investigating judge on the case.
Defendant Chea Yu, a 44-year-old construction worker, was charged with the crime of possessing a substance used to produce chemical, nuclear, biological or radioactive weapons. Chan Thoeun, Tit Raksmey, and Dy Vibol are named as accomplices, and if convicted, all four could face five to 10 years in prison.
However, little evidence was presented to support the charges, as authorities never tested the substance in question in the almost year and half since the four were arrested and put in pre-trial
The substance in question was a liquid transported in plastic water bottles, despite uranium being a metal that enters a liquid state at 1,132 degrees Celsius.
Speaking in court at the start of the trial a few weeks ago, Yu claimed he was given the substance by a man in Vietnam named “Mai”, who connected him with Thoeun, a motodop, to find buyers for substance.
Yu was told the substance was an “acid used to test gold” worth $400,000 per litre.
Thoeun, in turn, met Raksmey, a farmer, in Phnom Penh, who found taxi driver Dy Vibol. The group of four then found buyers for the substance in Stung Treng and arranged to meet them and five others on August 30, 2016.
At the meeting, the substance was poured on a metal nail, which dissolved. Police then swooped in and arrested the four, saying in their
report that the substance was “uranium”. Officials involved have yet to explain that conclusion and the Ministry of Defence, to whom the substance was handed over, never had it tested.
The four defence lawyers contended there was no evidence the substance was uranium, noting that their clients, and the police handling it, would likely be dead if it were.